By Jesse Robitaille
I know many collectors who try to separate stamps from politics—after all, why ruin an otherwise enjoyable escape from the never-ending, get-nowhere partisanship that dominates so much of today’s political discourse?
But some issues are so big – so pervasive – they permeate even our most beloved sanctuaries, including the haven stamp collecting usually offers us from the constant chaos of politics.
That’s why in mid-August, after environmental groups raised concerns about issue-based advertising rules in the Canada Elections Act, I immediately thought of stamps.
Elections Canada requires any group spending $500 or more on “regulated activities,” including partisan ads, during the pre-election or election period to register as a third party and submit reports. This requirement includes “issue ads,” which can be considered partisan even if they don’t reference a specific party or candidate.
Simply put, if an ad advocates or counters a position associated with a party or candidate, it can be deemed partisan.
While these ads have been regulated during election periods for the past two decades, representatives of charitable advocacy groups – and more than 300 scientists who have since added their signatures to an open letter addressed to Elections Canada – are concerned about a potential “chilling effect.”
1990 ‘WEATHER OBSERVING’ STAMP
On Sept. 5, 1990, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp marking 150 years of weather observing in Canada. It was on that date in 1840 when Lieutenant C.J.B. Riddell moved his climate observations operation from Old Fort York to a log observatory on King’s College (now the University of Toronto).
It was “the first rudimentary, but systematic, recording of the weather,” according to a press release issued by Canada Post along with the 39-cent stamp. It was designed by Montréal artist Denis L’Allier and Dominique Trudeau based on a photograph of clouds taken by David Collins, of the Institute for Aerospace Research.
“Obviously, climate change is real,” Tim Gray, executive director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence, recently told the Canadian Press.
“Almost every credible institution on the planet is telling us to get our act together and do something about it.”
But registering as a third party can be burdensome for charitable advocacy groups – like Environmental Defence – which are prohibited from engaging in any partisan activity to maintain their tax-exempt status.
If even a single politician counters current climate change theories, it becomes a partisan issue—even if the overwhelming majority of scientists worldwide agree with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which just last year warned global greenhouse gas emissions must be halved by 2030 or the planet will face irreversible calamity.
“There is no climate change urgency in this country,” Maxime Bernier, leader of the newly formed People’s Party of Canada, said in a speech this June.
Suddenly, the discussion surrounding climate change is partisan, which is – apparently – something determined by only political parties and their candidates—not Elections Canada.
Further muddying the water in the name of transparency, the Canada Elections Act “doesn’t speak to the substance of potential third party issue advertising, nor does it make a distinction between facts and opinion,” added Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault.
“It is not Elections Canada’s role to make that distinction, no matter how obvious it may appear.”
While Elections Canada operates as an independent agency and appropriately aims for non-partisanship at all costs, Canada Post, on the other hand, might see climate change differently (although a media rep has since told me “Canada Post acts, at all times, in a manner consistent with other federal Crown corporations to ensure that Canadians see their national institutions as impartial, especially during elections”).
But what better way to tell Canada’s story (and spark important national discourse) than to issue a stamp – perhaps even a semi-postal – highlighting climate change and its impact on this and other countries worldwide?