Aug. 19, 2019

Is freedom of expression threatened by Elections Canada?

Any fiddling with freedom of speech should be alarming to everyone, especially with a federal election campaign unofficially under way.

But Elections Canada has expressed the view that campaigning on any topic that is espoused by a political party makes you a partisan campaigner.

Discussing climate change during the coming federal campaign could be deemed partisan activity. An Elections Canada official has warned groups in a training session that because Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of climate change claims, 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.

Any partisan activity — including advertising, surveys, or any kind of campaign costing at least $500 — would require a charity to register as a third party for the election, an onerous requirement that could jeopardize a group’s charitable tax status, Gray said.

That may be good news for one side of the climate issue, but would shut down the alarmists spreading their religion to anyone would listens, and those who don’t. 

That should trigger many alarm bells – the policy could apply to virtually any issue that would be of public interest in the campaign, as long as a political party takes a stand on it.

A good example is federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh repeating his stance in opposition to pipelines. It’s not difficult to see how the above rule could be interpretted. If you favour pipelines and want to address the issue you have to register as a third party?

Or the federal Liberals’ stand on immigration – legal or otherwise. If you have a different view of the topic, would you or any group be shut out from commenting?

The regulation does apparently not apply to individual Canadians, but any organization or group spending $500 or more. Still, I am not ready to give up my right to freely campaign for or against any of the issues brought to the table by the parties. Whether to agree or disagree with the climate issue is my right as a citizen and I'm not prepared to give that up. My views on pipelines and any type of immigration are my rights as a Canadian citizen.

We can only hope this is a work in progress. If such regulation is truly in effect we don’t have free and open debate and discussion in the election. That is too much to give up.