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Politicians denounce elections law restricting partisan ads

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The man whose position on climate change is at the centre of a controversy over partisan campaign rhetoric weighed in Monday, saying Elections Canada is stifling free speech if environmental groups can’t produce ads that describe global warming as a real crisis borne of human behaviour.

Maxime Bernier, leader of the nascent People’s Party of Canada and an outspoken climate-change denier, was responding on Twitter to the agency’s warning that ads that discuss the legitimacy of the phenomenon – including paid social media placements – could be considered partisan simply because of the position of the People’s Party.

In a word, Bernier summed up Elections Canada’s position as “absurd.”

“The law should only regulate real partisan advertising, which is when there is mention of a candidate or party by name,” he said.

The Canada Elections Act does indeed restrict any third-party advertising. During the pre-writ period before the campaign officially begins, the law only affects advertising that specifically mentions a candidate or party, which the Act calls “partisan” advertising. As soon as the writ drops, the restrictions also apply to advertising that takes a position on an issue a party or a candidate has given, as well as those that mention a party or candidate by name. This is referred to in the Act as “election advertising.”

Once the costs of such ads hit $500, the third party must register with Elections Canada, produce records and financial reports and limit the amount of advertising it undertakes.

“There are hundreds of potentially contentious issues that could be considered partisan if this rule were to be applied consistently,” Bernier said.

Natasha Gauthier, a spokeswoman for Elections Canada, said the climate-change warning was just an example of an ad that could fall into the “election advertising” category, and that any decision about specific ads or activities would be decided on a case-by-case basis and only if there is a complaint. That decision also will be made by the commissioner of Canada elections.

Elections Canada does not know in advance what issues might come up during the campaign, Gauthier added, but said if a party or candidate takes a position on something, any organization that advertises or does work on that issue will need to make sure they comply with the law. For example, an association promoting the benefits of forestry jobs could find its ads offside if a party suddenly makes forestry jobs a campaign issue, she warned.

Third parties should “be careful, because it depends on the situation,” Gauthier said, adding that the rules around advertising are not new.

Even so, the agency’s decision to cite climate change as a specific example has left environment groups feeling muzzled, and others wondering how far partisan labels will go.

“This is lunacy,” said Green party Leader Elizabeth May. “Elections Canada is not a lunatic organization so I trust they will clarify and eliminate this ruling.”

If Bernier were to suddenly say he believes smoking is good for people, May wondered aloud, would any organization that promotes the health dangers of smoking suddenly be deemed partisan? Others on Twitter questioned whether the earth being round could suddenly become a partisan statement if a candidate were to publicly insist the earth is flat.

“It’s not partisan to discuss the single greatest threat faced by humanity,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said of climate change.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he will look very closely at what Elections Canada has said, but added that he trusts them to make independent decisions about the Canada Elections Act.

“We will always respect Elections Canada’s role and responsibility to independently apply electoral law,” Trudeau said.

“But I think the whole question highlights the fact that it is so frustrating that there are still conservative politicians in this country who don’t think climate change is real and certainly don’t think we should be doing anything to fight it.”

Several organizations say they now are planning to withdraw any advertising during the writ period that may discuss the scope of climate change, even though it doesn’t mention any party or politician by name.

“We’re screening everything we post or boost online,” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada. “Greenpeace Canada will continue to talk about climate change but we won’t be paying to boost that online or take out ads in newspapers.”

Stewart said Greenpeace registered last time, but described the process as onerous and time consuming – not worth it in 2019 for the roughly $2,500 worth of ads they did in 2015.

Greenpeace is not a charity, but there is added pressure on environmental groups that are who fear a Canada Revenue Agency audit should Elections Canada suddenly deem their activities to be partisan, Stewart said. The CRA has rules on partisan behaviour, and even if charities believe they are in compliance, the cost and time associated with an audit could cause them to rethink their campaign activities, he said.

New rules in legislation passed by Parliament last year also created new limitations on third-party activities that are not related to advertising. Restrictions on partisan activities could prevent organizations from assessing party policies or platforms, for example, something that was often done in the past.

While the rules don’t bar such activities entirely, they do require an organization to decide when the cost exceeds $500, and trying to determine the staff costs and overhead associated with responding to a platform is difficult enough that many organizations simply might avoid it entirely.

Trevor Melanson, a communications manager at Clean Energy Canada, said under the new rules, his organization resisted issuing a statement when Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he was going to get rid of the clean fuel standard being introduced by the Liberal government. Melanson said the standard is an issue his organization has spent years studying, and felt restrained from speaking out about it.

“It has a very real chilling effect on us,” he said.

Stewart said he has some sympathy for Elections Canada “trying to deal with growing concerns with third parties trying to manipulate elections.”

But turning facts into partisan fodder isn’t something the agency should tolerate, he added: “The aggravating thing here for me is science is not partisan.”

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Incumbents hold onto Vancouver seats

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The Liberals and NDP held onto some key seats in Metro Vancouver on election night, while the Conservatives swept the Fraser Valley, taking back some seats lost four years ago.

The political map for the Lower Mainland turned out to be a colourful one, with blobs of orange, red and blue, plus just a hint of grey in Vancouver Granville, where former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould held onto her seat as an independent.

Overall, there were fewer changes on election night in the Lower Mainland than many other places in Canada: In 20 of 26 electoral districts, the incumbent party — or candidate, in the case of Wilson-Raybould — were leading or elected, with a few close races going late into the night.

There were, however, a few suburban areas where voters decided to switch back to the Conservative Party, following a 2015 election where the Liberals won ridings in which they historically weren’t competitive.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh kept his seat in Burnaby South, while incumbent New Democrats Jenny Kwan, Don Davies and Peter Julian held onto theirs in the party’s strongholds of Vancouver East, Vancouver Kingsway and New Westminster-Burnaby.

The Liberals kept their seats in Vancouver Centre, Vancouver Quadra, Vancouver South, North Vancouver, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, Burnaby North-Seymour, Delta, Surrey Centre, Surrey-Newton,  Fleetwood-Port Kells and Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam.

Conservative incumbent Alice Wong won the riding of Richmond Centre, while the Tories stole seats from the Liberals in South Surrey-White Rock, Cloverdale-Langley City and Steveston-Richmond East, and from the NDP in Port Moody-Coquitlam.

South Surrey-White Rock’s Kerry-Lynne Findlay, who will be returning to Ottawa as a Conservative MP after a four-year absence, told CBC she’s optimistic despite being in opposition for the first time.

“I know how to navigate in Ottawa. I know how to speak up for B.C. and the Lower Mainland,” she said. “It’s important that the people who go to Ottawa from as far away as we live, that they go with passion and energy.”

Wilson-Raybould, at one time the Liberal justice minister, won Vancouver Granville after a tight three-way race with her opponents in the Liberal and Conservative parties.

Conservatives sweep through Fraser Valley

Further east in the Fraser Valley, incumbent Conservatives were returned in Abbotsford, Langley-Aldergrove and Chilliwack-Hope.

The party also picked up seats from the Liberals in Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon and Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge.

Supporters of independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould cheer at her election night celebration. The former Liberal cabinet minister is projected to retain her seat in Vancouver Granville. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Nationwide, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau held on to just enough seats in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario to secure a minority government after a tight campaign that saw the two leading parties struggle to break out of the pack.

While final ballots are still being counted in several ridings, the Liberals are expected to win 156 seats and form a minority government.

With no single party holding a majority of votes in the House of Commons, longtime Vancouver Centre Liberal Hedy Fry said co-operation will be key for her party.

“We as Liberals have to be able to work with others who share our values and, of course, those values could be things like health care, mental health, addictions as a public health issue, housing, helping the middle class and helping get children out of poverty,” she told CBC.

“If we can find people who share those values, we’re prepared to work with anyone.”

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Doug Ford congratulates Trudeau on election win

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TORONTO – Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’s ready to work with the newly re-elected Liberal government in Ottawa.

Ford issued a statement Tuesday morning congratulating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his victory and applauding all federal leaders for a “hard fought campaign.”

He says he looks forward to working with Ottawa to address “shared priorities,” including infrastructure, internal trade and mental health.

He also praised Trudeau’s commitment to helping fund the provincial government’s planned “Ontario Line” subway project that would ease congestion in Toronto’s transit system.

Ford’s statement stands out for its conciliatory tone, particularly in light of how much the Ontario premier was a target of Liberal criticism throughout the campaign.

Trudeau had repeatedly invoked Ford’s name and policy decisions when warning of the potential consequences of a Conservative election win.

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Liberals look to hold N.S. seats as other parties seek electoral breakthroughs

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Liberals look


Four years ago, Sean Fraser was part of a Liberal team that surfed a red wave to a majority government.

There was no wave on Monday night as Fraser faced a star challenger in the form of country musician and Conservative candidate George Canyon. But in the end it didn’t matter — Fraser is headed back to Ottawa to represent the riding of Central Nova after pulling in more than 46 per cent of the vote.

“I used to play a lot of basketball growing up and I remember the games where we beat a good team by two a lot more than I remember the ones where we beat up on a small school by 40,” he said in a telephone interview.

“And this feels like we beat a good team by a healthy margin. It wasn’t just a star candidate. It was tens of thousands of dollars that they poured into Facebook ads, radio ads, TV ads, a visit from the leader. And we pulled it off in any event.”

Fraser wasn’t the only Nova Scotia Liberal re-elected Monday night, part of an effort that saw the party earn a minority government in the House of Commons.

Andy Fillmore is greeted by supporters at his Halifax campaign office after holding his seat in Monday’s election. (Pam Berman/CBC News)

Andy Fillmore was re-elected as MP for Halifax, Darren Fisher was re-elected in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour and Darrell Samson will return as MP for Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook. 

Bernadette Jordan — a cabinet minister in the Trudeau government — will return as MP in South Shore-St. Margarets and Geoff Regan, perhaps the surest electoral bet in Nova Scotia, returns as MP for Halifax West.

Fisher said he was humbled by his second victory, as well as by the 100 volunteers who greeted him as he arrived at a victory party.

“It’s an overwhelming feeling when you run for election and you see the effort and the work that’s put in by people that care about you, but also people that care about their community,” he said.

Jordan said she was thrilled by her win.

“We’re going to have a good night tonight and then tomorrow we’ll start all over again,” she said.

Liberal Kody Blois, the declared winner in Nova Scotia’s Kings-Hants riding, walks into his campaign headquarters Monday night. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Fillmore said he took nothing for granted during the campaign.

“I’m just ecstatically grateful for the people of Halifax to send me to Ottawa to represent them for another term.”

Conservatives take West Nova

While the Liberals won all 11 Nova Scotia ridings in 2015, they didn’t run the table this year.

Former Progressive Conservative MLA Chris d’Entremont flipped the traditional swing riding of West Nova back to the Conservatives.

Provincially, d’Entremont has been used to easy wins. Monday was much more hard-fought, with just a few percentage points separating him from Liberal challenger Jason Deveau.

“There’s a lot more work that goes into this, but I can tell you over the last few hours I think I’ve never been more stressed,” d’Entremont said in a phone interview.

Former Tory MLA Chris d’Entremont is headed to Ottawa to represent West Nova for the Conservative Party of Canada. (CBC)

As the dust settles on the election, d’Entremont said he’s hoping everyone takes stock of the campaign and tries to dial back the rhetoric that, at times, was nasty all across the country.

“I’m going to try my best to work around, I would say, that mean-spiritedness that goes amongst all the parties,” he said.

“I’ve shown as an MLA that I’ve been able to work across party lines, that I’ve gotten things done for my area, and, you know, I really think that we just need to all take a step back and consider what happened during this election.”

Historic first win

Jaime Battiste overcame controversy during the campaign related to racist and sexist social media posts from a few years ago to become Nova Scotia’s first Indigenous MP and hold Sydney-Victoria for the Liberals, defeating a slate of candidates that included former Tory MLA Eddie Orrell.

The resident of Eskasoni First Nation holds a seat made vacant following the retirement of longtime Liberal MP Mark Eyking. He is also now the first Mi’kmaw MP in the House of Commons. 

In winning the riding of Sydney-Victoria for the Liberals, Jaime Battiste becomes the first Mi’kmaw MP and Nova Scotia’s first Indigenous MP. (CBC)

Battiste said he believes his was the most diverse campaign in the province, focusing on people from all backgrounds.

“I am really happy to be the winner today and I am going to work hard every day to show Canadians, not only Cape Breton, that I won this for a reason,” he said.

“I believe in Canada, I believe in reconciliation, I believe in diversity and these are the things I ran on,” Battiste said.

Addressing his controversial social media posts, Battiste said all he can do is apologize and move forward.

“I’ve always been a person who believes in diversity and who believes in equal rights.”

Long night for Zann

The last race of the night to be called was also the closest, with Liberal candidate Lenore Zann holding Cumberland-Colchester for the Grits.

Zann topped Conservative candidate Scott Armstrong, himself a former MP for the riding, for a seat that was up for grabs following the retirement of Nova Scotia political legend Bill Casey.

“Wow, what a roller-coaster ride,” said Zann, calling it the most fun campaign she’s run.

Zann was previously an NDP MLA who resigned to run federally. 

Zann said she believes a minority government where the Liberals govern with the support of the NDP and Greens will be healthy for the country.

“In many countries, what we call hung parliaments, or minorities, work very well.”

Fresh faces in Ottawa

First-time winner Kody Blois didn’t have to wait nearly as long in holding the riding of Kings-Hants for the Liberals.

The young lawyer, running in his first federal election, won the seat that essentially belonged to longtime MP Scott Brison, who announced his retirement from politics earlier this year.

Moments after arriving at what amounted to a victory party, Blois said it was a “surreal” and “incredible” feeling.

Mike Kelloway, the new MP for Cape Breton-Canso, poses for a picture with campaign volunteers Harmanjot Singh Chahal (left) and Mubashir Ahmad Badar (right). (Tom Ayers/CBC)

They’ll be joined in Ottawa by fellow first-time Liberal winner Mike Kelloway, who continues a Liberal hold on the Cape Breton-Canso seat following the retirement of veteran MP Rodger Cuzner. Kelloway bested a field of six other candidates that included former Tory MLA Alfie MacLeod.

Kelloway called for unity in his victory speech.

“No matter what sign you had on your lawn, right now we are all one community and that is the way we will need to move forward,” he said.

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