Elections Canada Clears Skeptics Group of Campaign Wrongdoing

Worth A Look, Climate, Frontier Centre

OTTAWA – A group of global warming skeptics has been cleared of wrongdoing following an investigation by Elections Canada into radio ads which ran in key Ontario markets during the 2006 election campaign.

Two individuals filed complaints alleging that the Friends of Science Society, a group of academics and geologists opposed to the international Kyoto agreement on climate change, had paid for the ads with money from a University of Calgary research account, without registering with Elections Canada as a third-party advertiser.

But Elections Canada indicated in a letter to the Friends of Science lawyer, Gerald Chipeur, on Sept. 4, that it had wrapped up the investigation and would not press charges.

“After completing a preliminary assessment, our office concluded that no further investigation into this matter was warranted based on the information before us at this time,” wrote Patricia Moise, legal counsel at Elections Canada in the letter. “Consequently, the matter was concluded at that stage.”

Last year, the University of Calgary shut down two research accounts set up by Barry Cooper, a professor in its political science department, after discovering that money was being collected from a registered charity and going through the accounts to pay for the ads which attacked the previous Liberal government’s climate change policies and its support for the international Kyoto Protocol.

In separate newsletters, the Friends of Science pledged before the 2006 campaign “to have a major impact on the next election,” and said after the vote that its campaign to influence public policy on climate change was working.

Jean-Claude Bernais, the chief investigator at Elections Canada, concluded that the Friends of Science was not required to register as a third party during the campaign since the radio ads did not fall under the definition of “election advertising.”

“The audio statements do not refer to the election nor do they mention any political party or candidate,” wrote Moise in a separate letter from Sept. 21, 2007, to an individual who filed the initial complaint. “They do not promote or oppose a registered party, or the election of a candidate. They take the position that the public have been misled about global warming. To the extent that all of the major parties in the 2006 federal election acknowledged the problem of global warming and were taking steps to address it, though in different ways, (the Liberals, NDP, Bloc Quebecois with the Kyoto accord, and the Conservatives with a Made in Canada approach) it would be difficult to conclude that the audio statements by taking a position on global warming, were targeting one particular party or candidate or a particular party’s policy.”

In Calgary Tuesday, Cooper said he wasn’t at all surprised by the decision from Elections Canada.

“It was a frivolous and vexatious compliant,” Cooper said. “It was also an attempt – fortunately unsuccessful in this instance – of stifling debate.”

Earlier this year, Cooper said he set up the fund but said his work was a legitimate academic pursuit exploring the climate change debate. He said his ties to federal Conservative Leader Stephen Harper have been overstated in the media.