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.
“There is no climate change urgency in this country,” Bernier 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 advertises 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. 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.
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.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version included surveys as an example of possibly partisan activities.
Homes by 3Leafs showcases the first single family, shipping container home built in Calgary.
Homes by 3Leafs showcases the first single family, shipping container home built in Calgary. The Alberta based company is changing how homes are constructed by transforming recycled steel containers into high performance, energy efficient homes with net zero capabilities.
September 19, 2019, Calgary, AB Homes by 3Leafs gave media an exclusive inside look into the sleek, elegant modern two-storey home made from four recycled shipping containers. The home is nestled in the eco-friendly community, Echohaven, in northwest Calgary.
Som Sourachit, C.E.O. of Homes by 3Leafs describes this moment as pivotal. “Our high performance, energy efficient houses reduce waste in landfills by repurposing steel shipping containers into dream homes. The houses have net zero capabilities and are the new blueprint for how we should build while protecting our environment. “
It’s estimated there are millions of shipping containers piling up in landfills worldwide. The repurposed containers make the perfect envelope for a home, and reduce the heavy reliance on trees used for construction. The steel means shipping container homes are sturdier and will last for generations with fewer repairs than traditional stick builds over time.
The homeowner, Jaime Turner, added “This is a teaching moment for my young daughter. We wanted to build a legacy for her. This is our forever home and we know because it’s made of steel it will last for generations, and an added bonus is, we are being good to our environment!”
Homes by 3Leafs is proud to be leading the way in new home construction. Currently, 6 building projects are underway.
About Homes by 3Leafs
Homes by 3Leafs is a global company based in Edmonton and is comprised of a team of architects, construction experts, designers, and engineers with years of experience developing stunning homes. By using shipping containers to build, Homes by 3Leafs is committed to saving the environment. Thousands of containers pile up in landfills unused while forests can’t be cut down fast enough to support the robust construction industry. The company leads the way with cutting edge technology and new innovations to help the world build beautiful sustainable homes to last hundreds of years.
Court allows six Trans Mountain appeals focusing on Indigenous consultation
VANCOUVER — The Federal Court of Appeal says it will hear six challenges of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion focusing on Indigenous consultation, while dismissing several claims centred on environmental concerns.
The decision calls for narrowly focused, expedited court proceedings that will only examine the calibre of the federal government’s consultation with Indigenous communities between August 2018 and June 2019.
“Many of the Indigenous and First Nation applicants now allege that the poor quality and hurried nature of this further consultation rendered it inadequate,” says Justice David Stratas in the decision released Wednesday.
The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has twice approved a plan to triple the capacity of an existing pipeline from Alberta’s oilpatch to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
The Federal Court of Appeal tore up the original approval last year, citing both an insufficient environmental review and inadequate Indigenous consultations. The Liberals said they fixed both problems and approved the expansion a second time in June.
Three environmental groups, eight First Nations and the City of Vancouver sought leave to appeal. Conservation groups argued there were inadequate protections for endangered species affected by increased tanker traffic, while several First Nations said the government came into the most recent discussions having predetermined the outcome.
The court has allowed requests to appeal by the Coldwater Indian Band, Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Upper Nicola Band, the Stk’emlupsemc Te Secwepemc and a coalition of First Nations in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
Stratas explains in his ruling that decisions to grant leave to appeal are based on whether arguments are “fairly arguable,” meaning any claims with fatal legal errors must be dismissed.
Two sets of arguments advanced by First Nations didn’t meet that standard, including any assertions of a right to veto as well as issues already decided by the court’s first ruling last August, Stratas says.
However, the federal government engaged in additional consultations after the ruling and the court should decide whether those talks were adequate, he says.
At the same time, Stratas says applicants’ arguments on environmental issues aren’t fairly arguable. Many were already dealt with or could have been raised during the court’s first hearing on the project, he says.
In its first ruling, the court called for a new National Energy Board review focusing on marine impacts and the review was completed in February. The board submitted a “comprehensive, detail-laden, 678-page report” to the government, Stratas notes.
Though many applicants say the new report is deeply flawed, this argument “cannot possibly succeed” based on the degree of examination and study of marine shipping and related environmental issues in the document, he says.
The federal government bought the existing pipeline and the unfinished expansion work for $4.5 billion last year, promising to get it past the political opposition that had scared off Kinder Morgan Canada from proceeding.
Stratas rejected arguments that alleged the government made a biased decision to approve the project because it is the owner.
He says the governor-in-council, which represents the Crown and acts on the advice of cabinet, is actually the decision-maker, not the federal government. Furthermore, he says the governor-in-council is required to make decisions regardless of who owns a project.
Stratas says short and strict deadlines for litigation will be set. He directed the parties to file their notices of application for judicial review within seven days.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation said in a statement that it felt confident the government’s approval will once again be quashed.
“Canada continued to do the legal minimum (in consultations) and in our view, fell well below the mark again,” said Chief Leah George-Wilson. “They approached it with a closed mind, and were in a conflict of interest.”
Ecojustice, which had brought a case on behalf of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Living Oceans Society, said it will not rule out taking its fight to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“Going to the country’s highest court may seem like a drastic measure, but — in the midst of a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis — these are drastic times,” it said.
The City of Vancouver also said it’s considering its next steps.
Alexandre Deslongchamps, a spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi, said the federal government is confident it took the necessary steps to get the approval right and is prepared to defend its decision in court.
“We fulfilled our duty to consult with Indigenous communities by engaging in meaningful, two-way dialogue, which allowed us to co-develop eight new accommodation measures that are responsive to the concerns raised,” he said.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel criticized the government for not submitting a defence against 11 of the 12 motions seeking leave to appeal. The court decision says the government did so because it considered the threshold for leave to be quite low.
“Today we found out Justin Trudeau rolled over and refused to stand up for the Trans Mountain pipeline in court,” Rempel said.
— Follow @ellekane on Twitter.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press
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