Kennedy Stewart

MP, Burnaby—Douglas

E-Petitions

This Is Your House.

What issue do you want to see debated in the House of Commons?

There are few issues today as critical as democratic decline. I have devoted much of my 20 years as an academic to exploring how to increase citizen participation in politics. Part of the issue is the disconnect people feel between issues that impact their day to day lives and those being put on the Parliamentary agenda. In order to counter this sense of disenfranchisement, all governments need to take immediate action to reverse disturbing trends. Now, as a Member of Parliament, I am honoured to be in a position where I can advance concrete policy change, starting with the following motion on e-petitions:

M-428 February 13, 2013 That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to recommend changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions so as to establish an electronic petitioning system that would enhance the current paper-based petitions system by allowing Canadians to sign petitions electronically, and to consider, among other things, (i) the possibility to trigger a debate in the House of Commons outside of current sitting hours when a certain threshold of signatures is reached; (ii) the necessity for no fewer than five Members of Parliament to sponsor the e-petition and to table it in the House once a time limit to collect signatures is reached; and (iii) the study made in the 38th Parliament regarding e-petitions, and that the Committee report its findings to the House, with proposed changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions, within twelve months of the adoption of this order.
 

While petitioning has been a central part of parliamentary practice for centuries, modern technology now provides an opportunity to enhance this tradition in a way that pulls more citizens into the political process. Under the current petitioning rules, residents of Canada can submit printed petitions with 25 or more signatures to their MP. The member then submits the petition to the House of Commons, and, if the paper petition meets certain technical criteria, the government is obliged to provide a response within 45 days.

Under my proposal certified electronic petitions receiving a certain number of signatures – for example, 50,000 – and sponsored by at least five MPs would trigger a debate (similar to a “take note” debate) in the House of Commons.

Many Canadians feel that issues of importance are being left out of Parliamentary debate.  This motion on e-petitions, which has received support from both sides of the House, represents an opportunity for Canadians to improve upon a historically important democratic institution and bring it firmly into the 21st century.

This Is Your House. Let’s work together to bring it back into the hands of Canadians. Please visit betterpetitions.ca to learn more!

- Kennedy

 

FAQ

What are e-petitions?

E-petitions, or electronic petitions, are petitions that can be signed online. Like written petitions, signatories provide their name, email, phone number, and mailing address to validate their identities. While e-petitions have been implemented around the world, including in Quebec and the United Kingdom, systems and rules regarding these mechanisms differ.

What kind of e-petitions system is this motion proposing?

The text of the motion puts forward a very basic framework for an e-petitions system in Canada. It includes the possibility of triggering debate on the subject of the e-petition, a requirement for a minimum number of MPs to sponsor the e-petition, and a time limit during which to collect a minimum number of signatures.

It will be up to the members of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to recommend changes, including the length of time for collecting signatures and the number of signatures required before it could be tabled in the House for debate. The motion also sets for a time frame of twelve months for the Standing Committee to report its findings to the House and initiate the process to establish an e-petitions system in Canada.

What happens if this motion passes?

This motion would instruct the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to begin a study that would recommend changes to the Standing Orders of the House of Commons. Witnesses with experience with electronic petitioning systems in jurisdictions including the United Kingdom and Quebec could be called in to testify, as could representatives from various organizations with a particular interest or issue regarding an electronic petitions system in Canada. In addition, expert witnesses from privacy groups and the Office of the Clerk of the House of Commons could also provide technical details for how an electronic petitions system could be securely implemented.

Would this replace the existing petitions system?

An e-petitions system would not replace the existing petitions system in the House of Commons. Rather, it would complement an existing system allowing both paper petitions and electronic petitions to be tabled in the House. E-petitions that do not reach a minimum threshold of signatures to trigger a debate in the House would still be entitled to an official Government response if they do receive 25 or more signatures, as per existing rules.

What stops frivolous e-petitions from being debated in the House?

In order for petitions to be certified in the House of Commons, they must meet certain guidelines for form and content. Unless otherwise stated, or not applicable, the requirements and guidelines for electronic petitions would be the same as the current requirements and guidelines for written petitions. A requirement of a certain number of Members of Parliament to sponsor the motion is an effective check against petitions of an extremist nature.

Issues debated in the House of Commons would not be subject to a vote, and therefore could not be used to pass bills or motions. However, it is a powerful grassroots representation of the importance Canadians place in a particular issue, and would place this issue on the agenda of your House.

How can I show my support for this motion on electronic petitions?

Download a copy of my petition supporting electronic petitions here, share it with your friends and colleagues, and mail it back to me! Also, contact your Member of Parliament and ask them to support M-428 when it comes up for debate in the House this Spring. We've launched betterpetitions.ca, a new website that features a campaign video and e-petition for Canadians to sign.

 

In The Media:

Whatever happened to the Reform party? 
Aaron Wherry, Macleans.ca, 14 June 2013 

MP Stewart's e-petitions bill to be debated in House
Wanda Chow, Burnaby NewsLeader, 2 April 2013 

B.C. NDP MP wants Commons to accept online petitions
Peter O'Neil, Vancouver Sun, 14 February 2013 

Petitioning Parliament
Aaron Wherry, Macleans.ca, 15 February 2013 

Preston Manning and Ed Broadbent lend names to e-petition proposal
Nick Taylor-Vaisey, Macleans.ca, 26 February 2013

Manning and Broadbent find common ground
Peter O'Neil, Vancouver Sun, 26 February 2013

How you could set Ottawa's agenda
CBC Radio West, 26 February 2013

NDP MP wants online petitions for Parliament
CBC Radio's On the Coast, 26 February 2013

BC MP hopes to bring petition change to Parliament
Radio Canada International, 28 February 2013 

MP Stewart's e-petitions bill to be debated in House
Wanda Chow, Burnaby NewsLeader, 2 April 2013

Poll: Most Canadians back call for Commons to accept online petitions
Peter O'Neil, Vancouver Sun, 18 April 2013

This week in parliamentary reform
Aaron Wherry, Macleans.ca, 11 June 2013

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