OTTAWA — A pre−election chill has descended over some environment charities after Elections Canada warned them that discussing the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

An Elections Canada official warned groups in a training session earlier this summer that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change, any group that promotes it as real or an emergency could be considered partisan, said Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

The Canada Elections Act dictates that advertising by third parties, like environment groups, can be considered partisan if it promotes or disputes an issue raised by any party or candidate during the campaign period, even without mentioning that party or candidate by name. If the ad campaign on that issue costs at least $500, the third party has to register as such with Elections Canada.

Gray says registering as a third party is not only onerous, it could also draw unwanted attention from the Canada Revenue Agency, which prevents charities who want charitable tax status from engaging in partisan activity of any kind.It is "discouraging" that Environmental Defence and other charities may have to zip their lips about climate change being real during the campaign period "because one party has chosen to deny the existence of this basic fact," he added.

"Obviously climate change is real," said Gray. "Almost every credible institution on the planet is telling us to get our act together and do something about it."

Last fall, the United Nations climate change panel, made up of hundreds of scientists from around the world, said if the world doesn’t act faster to cut global emissions the planet will face irreversible and catastrophic consequences.

Five of the six political parties expected to have any chance of winning a seat in the upcoming campaign agree that climate change is real and caused by humans. Bernier, however, is the one outlier: he believes that if climate change is real, it is a natural cycle of the earth and not an emergency.

"The main reason for climate change, it is not human activity," Bernier said Sunday in Gatineau, Que., where his party was holding its first convention.

"There is no climate change urgency in this country." he said in a speech in June speech. He also disagrees that carbon dioxide, which experts say is responsible for three−quarters of greenhouse emissions globally, is bad.

"CO2 is not ’pollution,’" he tweeted. "It’s what comes out of your mouth when you breathe and what nourishes plants."

Because of that, Elections Canada is warning that any third party that promotes information about carbon dioxide as a pollutant or climate change as an emergency could be considered to be indirectly advocating against Bernier and his party. Activities can be considered partisan by Elections Canada even if they don’t mention a candidate or party by name, the agency’s rules say.

An Elections Canada spokesman confirmed "such a recommendation would be something we would give."

Gray says the impact is stifling the conversation about climate change at a critical time.

"At this point, unless I can get greater clarification, after the writ is dropped we would stop doing anything online that talks about climate change, which is our entire mandate," he said. "You feel you’re being drawn into this space where you’re being characterized as being a partisan entity for putting up Facebook ads that say climate change is real, which seems ridiculous to me."

Environment groups in Canada are still on edge after spending much of the last five years fighting against the Canada Revenue Agency accusations and worry that if Elections Canada accuses them of being partisan, it will attract another round of audits for partisan activity. Gray said the two may have different definitions of partisan, but the fear is still having a chilling effect.

"We need to ensure that we’re not saying things that are going to be considered to be illegal by Elections Canada."

It doesn’t mean Gray is forbidden from giving interviews about climate change during the campaign, he said. Rather, it would affect any kind of activity the group undertakes that costs more than $500, such as a Facebook ad campaign.

In 2012, the former Conservative government unveiled a $13−million audit program to seek out charities the Conservatives alleged were abusing their tax status with partisan activities. The probes went after two dozen environment, human rights, anti−poverty and religious groups — none of them considered partisan — for going beyond a rule that limited their spending to no more than 10 per cent of their funding on political advocacy work.

The program was launched as the Conservatives called many environment groups "radical" and a "threat" to Canada.

The Liberals promised to end what they called a "witch hunt" against any civil society groups that opposed the government’s policies. It took more than three years, but eventually legislation was changed last year to lift the 10 per cent limitation. The non−partisan rule, however, remains.

Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, called the Elections Canada warning "shocking."

"Climate change is a scientific fact," she said. "It’s not an opinion."

The situation is "contributing to ongoing confusion" about what environment charities can and cannot do, and will give fuel to pro−oil groups that want to silence their opponents, Abreu added.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:15 p.m. on August 23, 2019. The Canadian Press story originally reported that any partisan activity — including advertising, surveys, or any kind of campaign costing at least $500 — would require a charity to register as a third party for the election. In fact, surveys are a separate issue under the Canada Elections Act and are not subject to the $500 limit.

What. The. Fuck. This is absolutely not acceptable. Here we are on the brink of catastrophe, and lunatics who deny basic science are permitted to set the terms of debate? No. Elections Canada needs to be told in no uncertain terms to get their heads out of their asses. Unbelievable.

I’ve filled in Elections Canada’s online contact form at https://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=cont&document=index&lang=e and will be calling them as well (the number: 1-800-463-6868). FWIW, my message:

I am furious to see news reports that you are warning environmental groups that saying climate change is real could be seen as partisan. Scientific established fact is not partisan. And this issue of climate change is one that it is extremely important be discussed, and that is not a partisan statement, that is reality. I urge you to please re-evaluate this misguided position you have taken.

Thank you, Daryl, for your perfect rejoinder to our national What. The. Fuck. moment.

thanks Daryl -- I just copied your message to Elections Canada and sent the same -- I will forward this to everyone I know

The Elections Canada decree sounds like something out of a Monty Python skit. It is, in our Burning Times, a risible statement which needs to be challenged vigorously by defiance. We have had laws to seize aboriginal children from their society and families, and laws which didn't permit women access to voting nor to abortion. When a decree passes the What.The.Fuck. test, we defy. Why? Because we don't wish to be Nero fiddling while Rome-oops, the Planet- burns. Nor jackasses led by capering fools.

Am I the only one who sees Bernier ("former" Conservative) as cleverly accomplishing what MR.HARPER could not while in power; i.e. tag charitable environment entities as political partisans. All it took was that clever statement so it makes me wonder just who was clever? The W.T.F for me is Elections Canada playing this game especially now, when the population wants to hold environment debates with reps from all parties to hear their solution to the climate crisis - how can this happen without breaking this unconscionable law?

Elections Canada. Which I have always had great respect for, as a protector of our system and our rights (although it would have been nice to see them have more teeth during the robocall B.S.).

But an asshat like Bernier, who has yet to prove he is capable of pretty much anything, who completely fouled his next in his last office, HE can hold the whole forking country hostage, and we are barred from hearing about the incredible danger we're in from the groups and individuals who have studied the matter most closely, and knowledgeably?

This needs to change, and right now!

Strict observation of reality is normal behavior. Departure therefrom is considered psychosis.

When low-information voters, industry leaders, and the politicians who pander to them choose to deny reality and sell their grandchildren down the river, why should anyone give them the time of day?

When your house is on fire, and your neighbours downplay the danger, do you stand around and try to reason with them? Or do you everything in your power to rescue your children?

Elections Canada is off base.

Thank you for sending the information on contacting Elections Canada. I have sent in my comments. I will be following up with a phone call.

Who needs to worry about foreign influence when our own Elections Canada is doing their dirty work to silence opposition to climate change denial? Will our comments to Elections Canada along with our contact information and name be provided to climate change denial groups and oil corporations?

This is an absolute rubbish proclamation by Elections Canada and overstepping the bounds of common sense,
However to me it appears that using Mad Max as justification is a red herring.
Elections Canada is a a quango "which is a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization established by a government to consider a subject of public importance, which is independent from the government"
This move is an opportunity for Federal Liberals to evade and avoid all contentious facts of global warming and their abject failure to respond is a meaningful way.
The imminent catastrophe has been identified in multiple Peer reviewed papers based on hard scientific data not mere speculative opinion.
Peter

I would like to know who is putting pressure on Elections Canada to stop climate change talk, I would be surprised if it was Bernier. This smells like Conservative/Koch Brother maneuver. Stopping any talk that does not support their agenda.

When Catherine Abreu, executive director of CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK Canada calls Election Canada's warning "shocking"... I CALL IT...a Partisan decision from isolated bureaucrats ( in an Ivory tower somewhere in Ottawa) in favour of Maxime Bernier's immature understanding of Climate Change and mostly his efforts to get investments from corporations for his.... "break-away" Conservative party.
This is not only a WT Fuck? Moment but even more. In my mind, this is a Hong Kong Moment - which may well exceed the next 12 weeks and more here in Canada, I dearly hope so! We can all express our extreme concern to Elections Canada in many ways! Hong Kong citizens know well how creeping controls soon limits freedoms for a long time.
People, especially the youth and millions who are standing up and protesting , in Hong Kong and many folks who have left HK over the past 3 decades know that when government control over FREE SPEECH from citizens is prohibited ; government easily slips into authoritarian behaviour and there is no longer democracy but a slide into dictatorship.
World youth of today will have a heavy load to carry in dealing with the turmoil of Rapid Climate Disruption and Agricultural Degradation . This has to be dealt with NOW...Elections Canada !!!!

If we're lucky, Mr. Bernier will fall off the edge of the flat earth.

I am completely befuddled by your position on preventing full and complete discussion on an issue so vital to Canadians as Climate Change. Since we are currently in a Climate Emergency, recognized officially by the Federal Government and other world governments, how is it logical to prevent a scientifically informed political discussion to address this emergency? Whatever reason could there be to prevent discussion and debate in every corner of the land as we struggle to find a way to protect ourselves from worsening Climate Chaos.

By labeling these non-profit organizations as ‘environmental organizations’ Election Canada is treating them as if they were partisan. They are not. They are the ones doing the non-partisan SCIENTIFIC research necessary for citizens, including politicians, to understand the science necessary to inform and understand vital political issues that must be addressed.

As voters, we need this information in order to help us decide how we are gang to vote, in this, probably our most important election in our history!

Whether or not you stick to this faulty decision, citizens will still be bombarded with massive ad campaigns and policy papers from the CAPP and other well-funded Industry Corporations, Lobby Groups and Think Tanks. Will there be any control over their influence on us as voters? Will their funding be cut by the Industry??

My understanding was that Elections Canada was non-partisan, and that its role was to do everything possible to make Canadian elections democratic. Limiting informed discussion of this issue is about as undemocratic as it is possible to be. The Pro-Oil advocates have always been well funded by the Industry. They will continue to produce and distribute non-scientific Pro-Oil propaganda which will inevitably influence the election.

And for what? So Bernier believes something different than all the other parties, who believe differently among them. Just because he doesn’t ‘believe’ that Climate Change is real?, why can it not be discussed in the public sphere.

Recent polls in Canada reveal that up to 84% of the public is very concerned about Climate Change, particulaly what do about it, and that they believe it is one of he most important issues in this election.

What if a politician in a Federal Election believed that women should not be able to vote? Would it be a good idea to not let any of the other parties and advocacy groups discuss this?

Seems similar, and as important, to me.

Please re-consider this decision.