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If environmental groups want to engage in a social media campaign talking about climate change and spend more than $500, they would have to register as a third party for the election so as to not violate the Elections Act.J. David Ake/The Associated Press

To the extent anyone pays attention to the musings of Maxime Bernier, most know his position on human-caused climate change: It doesn’t exist.

Mr. Bernier, head of the nascent People’s Party of Canada, thinks the prevailing climate change narrative is all hype. He doesn’t believe there is a climate emergency despite the best evidence of scientific experts around the globe. He disagrees that carbon dioxide is bad or responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gases.

“CO2 is not pollution,” Mr. Bernier famously tweeted. “It’s what comes out of your mouth when you breathe and what nourishes plants.”

Yes, indeed. And let’s not forget this man came within a hair’s breadth of becoming leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Mr. Bernier is in the news again, this time over the revelation that Elections Canada has issued a caution to environmental charities that promoting the dangers of human-caused climate change during the coming election would be considered indulging in election advertising. Why? Because Mr. Bernier and his party take the view that it doesn’t exist, therefore these charities would be helping endorse the policy of those federal parties that accept that it does.

So, if these environmental groups want to talk about climate change as part of an ad blitz, let’s say, or social-media campaign, and they plan to spend more than $500, they would have to register as a third party for the election. They also could potentially jeopardize their charitable tax status.

Not surprisingly, the news was quickly and almost universally condemned on public platforms such as Twitter. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May wondered if doctors would have to register as third parties to warn against the dangers of smoking if a particular party or its leader decided tobacco caused no harm. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted: “One #climatechange denying Maxime Bernier isn’t equal to a worldwide scientific consensus that the climate change emergency is real & urgent.”

Saying climate change is real could be seen as partisan activity during election campaign, Elections Canada warns

Politicians denounce elections law restricting partisan ads

And former Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell, no less, weighed in, suggesting that Elections Canada misstated the law. “It will be cleared up,” she suggested on Twitter. “Just incompetence, not the end of the world.”

But has Elections Canada misstated the law? Here is what the current Canada Elections Act says, in part: "Election advertising means the transmission to the public by any means during an election period of an advertising message that promotes or opposes a registered party or the election of a candidate, including by taking a position on an issue with which a registered party or candidate is associated.”

While I’m not so sure that Elections Canada is wrong in its interpretation of the current statute, it doesn’t make this situation any less absurd. Scientific fact should not be considered partisan, whether it aligns with a particular party’s views or not. It is a scientific fact that vaccinations help prevent illness. If a person against vaccines took over the leadership of a political party in Canada, it’s ludicrous to think health groups that have charitable status would be prevented from promoting public campaigns during a writ period that urged families to get their children inoculated. And it’s easy to conjure dozens of examples just as bizarre and farcical as that one.

I’m sure that Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer isn’t too upset by the directive Elections Canada has issued here. Although he has stated he believes human-caused climate change is real, it’s not an issue that appears to keep him up at night. His party, in fact, would surely be happy to not talk about the matter between now and the election, as reducing greenhouse gas emissions is not a Conservative priority in the same way it is for the Liberals, Greens and the NDP. So, Elections Canada is likely doing Mr. Scheer a favour as well.

The overwhelming view of Canadians, however, is that human-caused climate change is real and we need to be taking serious action to address it. I think if environmental groups continued to bring attention to this issue, in any form, even during the writ period, the majority in this country would support it. And I can’t imagine the next government, in whichever partisan form it takes, cracking down on those environmental groups that may have violated the Elections Act by promulgating the notion climate change is a looming calamity.

Otherwise, we’re allowing the ludicrous ramblings of a fringe party leader to silence groups who want to talk about the most important issue facing humankind. And that can’t happen.

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