The federal government won't say if it has any immediate plans to boost funds for Canada's competition watchdog so that it can resume an investigation into climate change-doubting advertising.

Last week, Canada's Competition Bureau told National Observer it didn't have enough resources to pursue a probe of websites and billboards that share false information about climate change unless new evidence is provided by members of the public that would help the bureau reboot its stalled investigation.

Though independent from government, the Competition Bureau is funded through the department of innovation, science and economic development. Its budget for 2017-18 is $48.4 million.

While a spokesman for Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains explained that the federal government takes climate change seriously, he said it is up to the bureau's commissioner to decide how to allocate resources and prioritize investigations.

"The bureau generally receives between 3,000 (and) 6,000 complaints per year, in addition to thousands of information requests. The commissioner must therefore exercise his discretion regarding which investigations to pursue," Karl Sasseville wrote in an e-mail to National Observer.

And when asked if the minister planned to bolster funding for the bureau, Sasseville responded by saying that the federal government plans its annual budget through a process that seeks to optimize limited resources for the greatest impact.

Ecojustice lawyer Charles Hatt filed the complaint against The Friends of Science, The International Climate Science Coalition, and the Heartland Institute in 2015, citing misleading billboard advertisements and other media material that challenges accepted climate science by suggesting (and promoting), “the sun is the main driver of climate change” and “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.”

Hatt told National Observer the Competition Bureau's main roadblock to completing their investigation has an easy solution: more resources.

In a blog post responding to both National Observer's requests for comment and coverage of the federal decision, the Friends of Science communications manager Michelle Stirling said last week that the Competition Bureau was a very important agency, but that this whole exercise was a waste of time, since the Friends of Science group isn't a business.

"We are not a commercial entity, we do not have federal lobbyists, we are not tax-subsized as environmental charities are, we do not represent any industry. We only present the professional insights and expertise of our core team and represent the views of our individual members (not corporations)," Stirling wrote in the Sept. 8, 2017 blog post.

Previous news reports have revealed that the Friends of Science received at least $175,000 in funding from the Alberta oilpatch that was donated through "research" accounts at the University of Calgary. This money was dedicated to the production of a video that questioned scientific evidence about how human activity is changing the planet's climate.

The Friends describe themselves as a non-profit organization made up of "retired and semi-retired earth and atmospheric scientists" who are interested in providing public education on climate science. Their web site and blog both invite donations from visitors.

Stirling's post continued a point-by-point rebuttal to Ecojustice claims, and highlighted the organization's support for ongoing fossil fuel development and consumption.

Stirling suggested Ecojustice was using the Competition Bureau's inquiry as an opportunity to "grandstand" and raise money.

The Friends of Science also said they were not owed money by a U.S. coal company, Peabody, as first reported in 2016. In a document that was nearly a thousand pages, the Friends were listed as a creditor in the coal company's bankruptcy proceedings and could not explain the link at the time.

Last week, Stirling wrote, "Friends of Science Society’s email came up in the procedural cull of all business contact emails, as explained to us by the bankruptcy trustee. Each party in a corporation’s email is contacted to see if they are creditors. We were not."

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Comments

The case that Friends of Science is 'not a business' is irrelevant. National Observer, EcoJustice and any of the other small social justice organizations should just keep up the pressure. The storms and fires will get the governments attention and the citizens will vote.

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