Canada election rules cast chill on climate talk

People's Party leader Maxime Bernier, pictured in 2017, has said there is "no climate change urgency" in Canada (AFP Photo/Geoff Robins)

Ottawa (AFP) - Election officials have warned Canadian environmental groups that lobbying on climate change during the upcoming election campaign could be deemed an outlawed partisan activity, activists complained on Monday.

Green organizations say they have been told presenting the issue as an emergency, or even a reality, could be seen as taking sides against politicians such as People's Party leader Maxime Bernier, who has said there is "no climate change urgency" in Canada.

The country of 37 million bans advertising by environment groups and other third parties if it promotes or disputes an issue raised by any party or candidate during the campaign period.

Campaigners can get around the regulation by simply registering with Elections Canada as third-party advertisers and limit spending to about Can$500,000 (US$375,000).

But many groups have charitable tax status that could be revoked if they are found to be engaging in partisan activities.

"So us talking about climate change in a scientific way, or just saying that climate change is real, would be seen as partisan and would be a problem," Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, told AFP.

He said the rule risks "silencing" environmental activists just as they are hoping to influence the course Canada plots on climate policy.

An Elections Canada spokeswoman confirmed that political parties looking to unseat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals in the October ballot had staked out what the organization considers positions on climate change.

"We have to take action now to fight climate change," Trudeau said on Monday, while chiding the opposition for not taking a tougher stand against global warming.

The Conservatives have criticized as too costly the Liberals' carbon tax, imposed in April on four provinces that haven't fallen in line with Trudeau's emissions reduction strategy.

Six others were initially exempt because each had come up with their own carbon tax or cap-and-trade system to help Canada meet its Paris Agreement target of reducing CO2 emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.