PEI

UPEI climate professor one of hundreds of scientists who signed letter to Canada's chief electoral officer

More than 350 Canadian scientists have signed their names on a letter delivered to Canada's chief electoral officer this week in response to concerns over an information session given by Elections Canada earlier this summer. 

'It's not a political issue. It should not be treated as a regulated issue'

'I'm just a scientist so when I looked into this letter I noticed basically ... climate change seems to be treated as a regulated issue during the election period,' says UPEI professer, Xander Wang. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

More than 350 Canadian scientists have signed their names on a letter delivered to Canada's chief electoral officer this week in response to concerns over an information session given by Elections Canada earlier this summer. 

Among the hundreds of scientists who signed the letter was UPEI's Xander Wang, an assistant professor with the school of climate change and adaptation. 

The letter expressed concern over a warning imparted by Elections Canada to environmental groups.

The agency told the groups that running advertisements about the dangers of climate change during the upcoming federal election campaign could be deemed partisan activity.

Elections Canada said the warning applies only to "activities or ads that specifically identify a candidate or party" and cost $500 or more.

'Not a political issue'

According to reports, environmental groups said that trainers from Elections Canada suggested that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People's Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the role of human activity in climate change, any group that promotes action to fight climate change in paid advertising would be seen by Elections Canada as engaging in partisan advertising.

Following reports from a number of media outlets this week, including CBC News, Stéphane Perrault, Canada's chief electoral officer, issued a public statement with regards to the information session held by Elections Canada. 

Perrault's statement assured environmental organizations that they're free to promote action to fight climate change during the fall federal election. 

Chief electoral officer Stéphane Perrault released a statement after it was reported Elections Canada had told environmental groups that running advertisements about the dangers of climate change during the federal election campaign could be deemed partisan activity. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

In fact, they would be engaging in issue advertising — which is not considered partisan — but still requires the group or person paying for the advertising to register as a third party with Elections Canada.

The reports led some to think there had been a change in the law restricting freedom of speech for advocacy groups — such as environmental organizations, human rights groups and pro-pipeline associations — during the writ period.

As Perrault said Tuesday, that's not the case; these rules have existed for 20 years.

Wang said he didn't think this was "acceptable because climate change is a fact."

"It's not a political issue. It should not be treated as a regulated issue." 

'Not about this party or that'

However, the letter addressed to Perrault said that while Elections Canada did clarify the rules — the application of the rules remain "problematic." It goes on to say that clarification of the rules does not address the presentation of climate change as debatable. 

"As a climate scientist, I have observed many facts, many real world observations about climate change ... it's a fact, it's not about this party or that. We need to communicate it correctly and properly to the public so they can understand it," Wang said.  

We need to let leaders understand that we need some actions.— Xander Wang, UPEI professor

"From the provincial or national level, it is very important as we are focusing on climate adaptation or impact assessment." 

But when it comes to focusing on climate adaptation and impact assessment, Wang said, scientists, political leaders, and society as a whole must move beyond awareness of the issue and begin taking steps toward meaningful action. 

"Action is more important. In order to make action happen we need to have some climate policy supporting these kinds of actions," he said.

"We need to let leaders understand that we need some actions." 

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With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.

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