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what is going on with climate change advocacy and the federal election?

photo by Element 5 Digital 

Author: Emma Hill 

Wait, what’s this about climate change being a partisan issue in the Canadian Federal Election? Now it’s not? Not quite sure what a ‘partisan issue’ even means? Confused? Don’t worry, bare market blogger Emma breaks down the recent situation that went down with Elections Canada regarding climate change advocacy. 

You might have noticed that the news was blowing up a few weeks ago regarding the role of climate change advocacy in the upcoming federal election. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about that’s ok. It seems like lots of people know something happened regarding climate change and the election, but are confused about the details.  You might be thinking to yourself “WHAT IS GOING ON?” – that’s fair, it’s been a confusing few days. I’ve got the quick and easy lowdown on what happened and where we’re at now. 

what triggered the outrage?

Things became heated when it came out that an official from Elections Canada was advising environmental groups that promoting action on climate change during election season could be deemed partisan activity. According to the Canada Elections Act, partisan activities promote or oppose a political actor, including a political party or candidate. 

It’s at this point you start to wonder “sorry, why is climate change considered a partisan issue? Isn’t human induced climate change an accepted scientific fact?” Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People's Party of Canada, has doubts about the impact of human activity on climate change, causing the whole partisan issue kerfuffle. Elections Canada was warning that any third party that advertises information about climate change as an emergency or scientific fact could be considered to be indirectly advocating against Bernier and his party and violate the Canada Elections Act. 

has it been resolved? 

Things have been clarified. Elections Canada's chief electoral officer issued a public statement that all environmental organizations can promote action to fight climate change during the fall federal election without getting into trouble with the Canada Elections Act. 

The rules are the following:

An organization could spend as much as it wants during the pre-election period promoting a policy position or advocating a certain action — providing the organization does not mention a political party or candidate by name. In short, this means that legislation doesn’t prevent anyone from discussing pressing issues, like climate change. That changes once the election period starts though. Spending more than $500 during the election period on advertising a position on an issue associated with a particular party or candidate, even without citing that party or candidate by name, is called 'issue advertizing'.

This is where it gets tricky. Groups that issue advertizsing need to register with Elections Canada as a third party advertizser. The problem is that the registration process can be time consuming and costly considering the stringent reporting requirements, as well as potentially risk the organizations charitable status. This might cause charities to feel obliged not to advocate for climate change action during the election out of fear of having to register.

photo by Parker Johnson

what does this mean for environmental advocacy during the election?

Here’s where we’re at: environmental groups can advocate for Canadians to take action to fight climate change, or promote the science behind climate change — providing they do it through the following mediums: email or text messages, online, by canvassing door to door or by giving media interviews. What they can’t do is issue advertizsing, which is spending more than $500 during the election period to take a position on an issue associated with a particular party or candidate, without registering to Elections Canada. 

While the clarification from Elections Canada’s chief electoral officer did help, many groups are still calling for Elections Canada to further clarify policy on climate change advertising. Notably, a group of more than 350 Canadian scientists have written an open letter calling on Elections Canada for further clarification on how it interprets issue-based advertising rules in the Canada Elections Act so that groups can communicate on climate change without having to register.

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