UPDATE: Canada's Chief Electoral Officer, Stephane Perrault, issued a public statement today, clarifying that environmental groups can say "whatever they want" during the election period, subject to the usual rules. There had been a rash of reports and opinion pieces, including this one, and a fine piece in The Beaverton, following advice given to environmental groups by Elections Canada staff, indicating that climate change had been classified as a "partisan issue" because Maxime Bernier disputes its existence, causes, and effects.
We're relieved, to say the least. Others are not, and think danger still lurks for charitable organizations publishing information on climate change during the election period.
First, let’s identify Elections Canada. It bills itself as “the independent, non-partisan agency responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums.”
In case you haven’t heard yet, Elections Canada has warned environmental organizations – you know, not-for-profit organizations, often charities, whose aim in life is to help preserve life on earth – that if they make efforts during the election campaign to further raise awareness about the looming existential threat of human-caused climate change, they will be engaging in “partisan activity.”
Any person, corporation or group that spends more than $500 on partisan activities must register with Elections Canada as a “third party,” and third-party status carries onerous reporting requirements. For a charitable organization, it would very likely also cost them their charitable status.
Apparently, Elections Canada did this to protect Maxime Bernier’s party from being challenged by the facts as presented by any charitable organization with an interest in telling the truth, because the truth contradicts Bernier’s position on climate change. Elections Canada has stated that an organization informing voters of the reality and hazards of climate change would likely be seen as indirectly advocating against Bernier and his party.
The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that climate change is happening, that it’s happening because of human activity, and that it’s a threat to human civilization and much of life on earth. Climate change is a fact of life now – it’s not a matter for debate, and it’s not a partisan issue, any more than gravity and the basic organization of the solar system are partisan issues.
So let’s get this straight: if the leader of any ridiculous fringe political party expressed doubts that the earth orbits the sun, and said he thinks the sun goes around the earth instead, then that would also be declared a “partisan issue” and no charitable organization dedicated to science and education would be allowed to spend more than $500 during the election campaign publishing the facts. Have I got that right, Elections Canada?
Will reporting the latest disastrous weather events and quoting climate scientists who say those events were intensified by climate change also trigger a requirement for the reporting news agency to register as a third party, and report regularly to Elections Canada? What about the climate scientists – do they all have to register as third parties in order to travel to a conference where they talk about the climate crisis and how it’s affecting life on earth already? Or are we just targeting environmental organizations here?
Why has Elections Canada decided that Bernier’s absurd denial of climate change is worthy of being protected from challenge by organizations of well-informed people who care about life on earth? Does someone in that “independent, non-partisan agency” share Bernier’s dangerously foolish position of denying the science on climate change?
Or has the largely foreign-funded fossil fuel industry lobby managed to direct our “independent, non-partisan” agency to favour that industry’s efforts to accelerate climate change and to advance the Sixth Extinction Event? Have they somehow managed to convince our federal elections agency that Bernier and other petro-supporting politicians should be helped along in their efforts to bring on the end of life on earth as we know it? Do they really think in terms of eschaton, apocalypse, “the Rapture”? Does religious fervor explain why Elections Canada has decided that one branch of science is a partisan issue? Or is it just that they’ve temporarily lost their marbles, and their sense of perspective?
If climate science is a topic forbidden to charitable organizations during an election campaign, what other branch of science might be forbidden as “partisan” next if it shows up in a party’s platform? What about other issues: will the Fraser Institute and its ilk be warned to silence its opinions that contradict the Communist Party’s positions?
A Canadian Press news item quoted an Elections Canada spokesperson as saying that it “will decide on a case-by-case basis whether discussing the legitimacy of climate change becomes a partisan issue for third parties during the federal campaign, and only if it receives complaints.”
If someone in Bernier’s party becomes aware of any charitable organization publicly issuing information during the campaign period that contradicts his denial of climate change, the results for the organization could be terminal.
By labeling the climate crisis and all information about it as “a partisan issue,” Elections Canada has created a chilling monster of doubt, at a time when many citizens are already feeling stressed by political inaction on the most certain and insidious threat we have ever known.
If environmental organizations and their experts are silenced on what is arguably the most important issue in the election, it’s up to informed citizens to do that job. And the scientists. Just don’t spend over $500 on it.