Election Wrap: Parties Respond to Climate Survey, Enviros Tip-Toe Around New Election Law as Campaign Passes the Half-Way Point
Four out of five major federal parties answered a five-part survey on their intentions for climate action and environmental groups were still stepping carefully around Elections Canada rules for third-party messaging as the federal election campaign moved past the half-way point this week.
“We asked all the major parties whether they’ll take five bare minimum steps to protect the climate. Here’s what they had to say,” tweeted Climate Action Network-Canada (CAN-Rac) Executive Director Catherine Abreu.
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“@CanadianGreens, @NDP, @BlocQuebecois have heard the call from voters for climate protection, an inclusive economy, and economic diversification away from fossil fuels. They came out of the gate early in this election with ambitious climate plans and policies for a just transition,” she wrote. “@liberal_party made a significant entry into this friendly one-upmanship with their climate and just transition platforms last week. Net-zero by 2050 is a bold and necessary commitment and can only mean the wind-down of #FossilFuels and a new vision for Canadian jobs and prosperity.”
But the Liberals “have a significant distance to cross to reconcile their position on fossil fuel projects like #TMX #TransMountain and #LNGCanada with their climate commitments,” she added. The federal Conservatives, meanwhile, “did not answer any of our questions. They are underestimating their voters who care about environmental protection, offering them an empty climate plan and refusing to take the issue seriously. The Conservatives miss the mark by every measure of climate action.”
The Canadian Press says the Conservatives “declined to answer questions and instead provided a brief blanket statement summarizing its climate plan,” The Canadian Press reports. “The party didn’t respond to the network at all until after a query from The Canadian Press.”
Meanwhile, the People’s Party of Canada sat out a broader, 10-point survey from a coalition of 14 national and regional organizations.
“Both surveys asked specific, direct questions, such as whether a party would introduce a plan to meet Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction targets, how it would reduce emissions, and how it would protect vulnerable parts of the economy and work force,” CP says. “The coalition survey also asked about conservation and reducing pollution.”
Apart from the no-shows—the Conservatives on the climate survey, and the People’s Party on both—the replies indicated the parties took the surveys seriously. “Most parties answered at near-essay length,” the news agency notes. “One Liberal response weighed in at nearly 1,000 words; a New Democrat answer was more than 500,” and “the Bloc Québécois and Green party also provided complete, extensive answers.”
“There’s been more effort put into thinking about the responses,” said Environmental Defence Executive Director Tim Gray. “There’s a lot more nuance here and a lot more clarity, so that’s great to see.”
Abreu said the responses show that most parties recognize the environment as a significant campaign issue. Until now, “we have not really seen them vying for a space as the most progressive on climate with the most detailed policy offerings,” she said. But today, “you can’t get away any more with empty promises.”
Whether environmental groups can get away with calling out those empty promises is another question, however. In a detailed exposé, Maclean’s reports that organizations are feeling a chill over new Elections Canada rules under which advocating for the reality of climate change might be interpreted as a reportable campaign expense.
The original plan for the 10-point coalition survey “was to pump out the document through the usual channels: websites, social media and so on,” Maclean’s says. “The project seemed like straightforward advocacy with no topspin. But the network’s attempt to do election-season voter engagement is steeped in irony, and reveals much about the contradictory rules governing the role of non-political party actors in the federal race.”
Out of an abundance of caution, “the platform comparison document stops short of grading the parties’ positions,” writes reporter John Lorinc, citing Gray. “When Stephen Harper’s Conservatives held power, they ordered the Canada Revenue Agency to initiate costly audits of environmental NGOs suspected of excessive political or even partisan activity. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals eased the rules restricting the political activities of charities, but Gray’s group didn’t want to risk further audits, so they dispensed with a scorecard.”
Maclean’s points to the “weird part” in the Elections Canada rules. “While Canadians have told pollsters in no uncertain terms that climate change is a top-of-mind concern, these reputable ENGOs are tip-toeing through what they regard as a regulatory minefield. Elections Canada warned Environmental Defence in August that if it ran ads warning about climate change, it might be accused of partisanship—a strict no-no for charities—because Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party has a strong position on the topic: denial. (Elections Canada walked back its warning after a flurry of media coverage and incredulity.)”
But while ENGOs are forced to move through the campaign in cautious slow motion, “pop-up third-party groups like Canada Proud and its provincial cousins (New Brunswick Proud, Ontario Proud, etc.) are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook attack ads, most of which are widely shared and heavily torqued hit jobs on Trudeau, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and others prominent targets in the anti-Liberal firmament,” Maclean’s notes. “With these ads, by contrast, Elections Canada’s third-party rules are agnostic when it comes to content and accuracy. As Gray observes, the agency has ‘no interest in the truthfulness of the messaging’.”
On the campaign trail, the Globe and Mail editorial board concluded that the Liberals’ climate change plan mostly stands up to scrutiny, but the Conservatives’ strategy does not. Veteran Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer might live to regret his failure to get serious about climate change. Green Party leader Elizabeth May reassured Alberta that it will remain an “energy superpower” under her party’s climate plan, and said she would support Canada taking in tens of thousands of climate refugees.
Last week, meanwhile, Clean Prosperity took the Conservative Party to task for a new campaign ad that it said deceived Canadians on the cost of the Trudeau government’s carbon tax.
“This is a new level of dishonesty,” said Executive Director Michael Bernstein. “It’s a real shame that the Conservatives are using a dishonest approach to discuss climate policy, including the most effective tool that we have: the carbon tax.”
The Conservatives’ video “claims the Liberals’ carbon tax will increase the cost per litre of gasoline by 22.5¢ (plus HST),” Global News reported. “In reality, the Liberals’ current plan would only increase the cost by 11¢ per litre by the year 2022.”
The Conservative campaign explained the number “was based on a hypothetical assumption that the government would rely solely on a carbon tax in order to lower emissions, which none of the major political parties is proposing,” Global added.
“On net, there actually isn’t an increase in the tax burden to Canadians,” said Deloitte Canada Chief Economist Craig Alexander. “If you want to put a price on carbon and reduce its emissions but you don’t want to have a significant impact on the economy, you need to then rebate and refund all of the money that’s collected back into the local economy.”