Elections Canada slammed after warning groups climate change may be ‘partisan’ issue

WATCH: Elections Canada warns environmental groups about making climate statements

Critics are speaking out following a warning from an Elections Canada official that discussing the perils of climate change during the upcoming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday afternoon that, while he respects the role of Elections Canada to apply electoral law, it’s frustrating to him that there are still politicians who don’t believe in climate change.

READ MORE: Discussing climate change during the election could be deemed partisan activity — Elections Canada

“I think the whole question highlights the fact that it is so frustrating that there are still conservative politicians in this country who don’t believe climate change is real,” Trudeau said in a press conference.

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted his disagreement with the warning on Monday morning.

“It’s not partisan to discuss the single greatest threat faced by humanity,” Singh posted at around 11 a.m. EST.

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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also criticized the position taken by Elections Canada.

Suppose a politician decided smoking is good for you, would doctors have to register as third parties in an election to stress importance of kicking the habit?” she asked in a tweet.

The warning was given by an Elections Canada official during a training session earlier this summer, according to Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence.

The Canada Elections Act could consider advertising partisan if it opposes or supports a policy positions of any party or candidate, even without naming them.

If the advertising exceeds $500, third parties would have to register with Elections Canada, raising fears among some environmental charities that the Canada Revenue Agency could also decide they are partisan and put their tax status in jeopardy.

LISTEN: Natasha Gauthier of Elections Canada joins Danielle Smith to discuss the new climate change-related warning

According to the report, Gray states the official said that because Maxime Bernier, leader of the self-founded 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.

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Gray described this as an onerous requirement that could jeopardize a group’s charitable tax status and draw unwanted attention from the Canada Revenue Agency.

WATCH: ‘This is lunacy’: May urges Elections Canada to reconsider partisan warning on climate change discussion.

‘This is lunacy’: May urges Elections Canada to reconsider partisan warning on climate change discussion
‘This is lunacy’: May urges Elections Canada to reconsider partisan warning on climate change discussion

“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.” 

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.”

Federal leaders weren’t the only ones to criticize Election Canada’s statements. In addition, regional leaders and other public figures spoke out publicly against the warning.

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Derrick O’Keefe, founder of the B.C.-based media outlet Ricochet, tweeted that the Elections Canada warning is a threat to democracy.

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B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver also tweeted: “Is saying sky is blue or grass is green also partisan if a fringe party say [sic] they aren’t?”

In a speech this past June, Bernier said: “There is no climate change urgency in this country.”

He also disagrees that carbon dioxide is bad, which experts agree is responsible for three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions globally.

“CO2 is not ‘pollution.’ It’s what comes out of your mouth when you breathe and what nourishes plants,” Bernier wrote on Twitter last year. 

Due to these comments, Elections Canada is warning that any third party that advertises information about carbon dioxide as a pollutant or climate change as an emergency could be considered to be advocating against Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada. Advertising can be considered partisan by Elections Canada even if it doesn’t mention a candidate or party by name, the agency’s rules say.

Five of the six major political parties running in the campaign agree that climate change is real and human-caused. Last fall, the United Nations climate change panel said that if the world doesn’t act quickly to cut emissions, the planet will face irreversible and catastrophic consequences.

Elections Canada has said 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 upcoming federal campaign and only if it receives complaints.

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— With files from the Canadian Press

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