My in-laws are Canadian and thus prone to frequent bouts of trashing the broken American political system and then immediately apologizing (with the exception of my brother-in-law Dan who is a true asshole). Well, the joke’s on you, suckers. Now your system is hopelessly compromised, too!
On Sunday, reports emerged that the agency overseeing Canada’s elections warned environmental nonprofits that they couldn’t talk about climate change because it was now a partisan issue. The reason? Maxime Bernier, a former politician Conservative party member who left to start his own far-right People’s Party, is a climate denier. All this stems from some dumb shit Bernier has said about climate change, including tweeting, “CO2 is not ‘pollution.’ It’s what comes out of your mouth when you breathe and what nourishes plants.” These words hurt my soul, they are so scientifically illiterate. They should have no bearing on an election anywhere in the world, and yet, here we are.
Because Canadian law prohibits outside nonprofit groups from advertising against a certain candidate, the country’s elections regulator, Elections Canada, has advised a number of them that even just rightfully pointing out the scientific reality that carbon dioxide causes climate change or highlighting that climate change is an emergency could be viewed as partisan, according to a report from the Canadian Press. This is of course extremely dumb and shows how the continued disfiguration of right-wing figures is warping our entire discourse on climate change.
Bernier founded the People’s Party of Canada in 2018, and it’s built largely on his personality and a platform of anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism, and pro-deregulation. The party is polling nationally around 3 percent, and just 1-2 percent of Canadians view Bernier as a viable prime minister should his party somehow surge to an extremely unlikely victory in elections this fall. All that should relegate Bernier to a footnote of history or at least indicate that the party, let alone Bernier’s views, should have no influence on how Canadians can or can’t talk about, well, just about anything. However, because of a loophole in Canadian election law, Bernier’s idiotic views on climate change will completely alter how nonprofit groups can talk about climate change.
Those groups can’t lobby on behalf of any candidate under Canadian election law. But because Bernier has said some dumb shit, their climate change-focused “activities or ads that specifically identify a candidate or party” could run afoul of the Canada Elections Act, according to Elections Canada. The law requires that any group that runs an applicable ad campaign that costs $500 or more during the election period to register as a third party with Elections Canada. The groups are, of course, pissed. The head of the group Environmental Defence told the Canadian Press that registering as a third party is a pain in the ass and could also catch the eye of the Canadian Revenue Agency because charities can’t engage in partisan activity.
Now look, the never-ending American election season is nothing if not painful and dumb, and the laws governing who can spend money on what in the U.S. are arcane and favor large corporations and the wealthy in ways that are supremely bad for democracy. It’s bad here, I get it.
But the fact that a fringe right-wing candidate’s personal, misguided view on climate change could fundamentally shift how nonprofits talk about climate change this election season up north is just another level. Climate change was going to—and still could be—the defining issue of Canada’s election this fall, with the Trudeau government defending its decidedly mixed climate record against the Conservative plan of vague hand waving. The Green Party is expected to see gains as its aggressive climate politics resonates with more people waking up to a climate emergency.
While environmental charities weren’t planning to (or allowed to, for that matter) advocate for any Canadian political parties, they could still fill a role by informing voters about the real risks climate change poses for Canadians who could, in turn, make informed votes. Now all that’s out the window. Sorry, eh (but not to you, Dan, you’re still an asshole).