Elections Canada CEO Says You Can Talk Climate Change Partisan-Free

The day after Canadian environmental groups voiced their concern that Elections Canada was going to classify any discussion about climate change as potentially partisan, the CEO of Elections Canada says talk is free, but paid ads means groups have to register as third-party advertisers.

“The [Canadian Elections] Act does not prevent individuals or groups from talking about issues or publishing information,” said Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault in a media release from Elections Canada.

Elections Canada added that when you fund more than $500 on “certain activities,” then you do need to register with Elections Canada as a third-party advertiser, at which point you can spend $511,700 until you reach your cap. When it comes to promoting an issue, Elections Canada only cares when a group spends money advertising during the election period, and then the issue must be clearly associated with a party or candidate.

“The Act doesn’t speak to the substance of potential third party issue advertising, nor does it make a distinction between facts and opinion,” Perrault said. “It is not Elections Canada’s role to make that distinction, no matter how obvious it may appear.”

So, if you’re an environmental group that wants to send emails or texts, have a website, canvass door-to-door, or givemedia interviews, then you’re golden, but if you buy an ad in a newspaper, on TV, or on social media then you need to register and report, which, Elections Canada says, creates more transparency.

“The third party regime can be complex, and we encourage anyone with questions to contact us,” Perrault added.

The controversy began Monday when the Canadian Press reported that environmental groups were concerned about Elections Canada deeming climate change advocacy as partisan after a training session held earlier this summer. The crux, according to Environmental Defence executive director Tim Gray, is that the People’s Party of Canada doesn’t recognise man-made climate change as a serious issue.

“I believe that we’re not climate deniers, the climate is changing and it will always change,” said People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier at a Guelph town hall in July.

“What we’re saying is that the main reason why the climate is changing it is not because of human activity, human activity may have a role, but in the end there are other factors. I’m not the scientist,” he added.

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

Non-profit environmental groups expressed concerns because of a 2012 bill brought forward by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper that approved $13 million to audit the finances of non-profits alleged to be violating their tax-exempt status with partisan activities, in addition to capping the budgets of these groups to spending a limit of 10 per cent on political or activist activities.

Two dozen environment, human rights, anti-poverty and religious groups were probed for supposedly breaking the rules, which have since been changed by the current Liberal government, who lifted the 10 per cent cap, but kept the rule about making sure all advocacy work is non-partisan.

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