Presentation of Petitions
As outsiders are not permitted to address the House directly, petitions must be presented by Members. Therefore, groups and individuals with petitions for the House must enlist the aid of Members to have their petitions certified and presented. Members are not bound to present petitions and cannot be compelled to do so;71 nevertheless, it is evident that many Members consider it a duty to present to the House petitions brought forward by citizens.72 The Member, whose role is to make the presentation on behalf of the petitioners, is not required to be in agreement with the content of any petition he or she may choose to present, and no such inference is to be drawn.73
Once they have been certified by the Clerk of Petitions, petitions are ready for presentation to the House. A certified petition is not to be altered or tampered with in any way, nor is the certificate to be removed. No rule or practice specifies a time period during which a petition must be presented following its certification, nor must a petition necessarily be presented by the Member whose name is on the certificate.74 The Speaker has observed that various reasons might prevent a Member from presenting a certified petition expeditiously, but has also found merit in the view that petitions ought to be presented promptly after certification so that petitioners are answered as quickly as possible.75
In principle, all Members can present petitions, including Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. In practice, Ministers rarely do so, and, in such cases, generally file them with the Clerk.76 The Speaker traditionally does not present petitions, but instead asks the assistance of another Member to do so. This practice originated in the British House of Commons of the late 18th century, a time when petitions were routinely debated. Presenting petitions would have led to the Speaker participating in the proceedings of the House, which would have been at odds with the essential neutrality of the Chair.77 However, more recently, Speakers have filed petitions with the Clerk.78
In choosing to present a petition, a Member must be satisfied of its fitness and compliance with the rules and practices, for it is a long-standing rule of the House that the Member is answerable for any improprieties and impertinences therein.79 In addition, the Member presenting a petition must endorse it by signing the back of the last page.80
Certified petitions may be presented in two ways: orally during Routine Proceedings81 or by filing them with the Clerk of the House during any sitting of the House.82 In practice, the vast majority of petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings.
Presentation During Routine Proceedings
Certified petitions are presented daily during Routine Proceedings, under the rubric “Presenting Petitions”. A maximum of 15 minutes is provided for the presentation of petitions.83 To be recognized, Members must be in their assigned places.84 Members with more than one petition to present on a given day are advised to present them all when given the floor, as individual Members are recognized by the Chair only once under the rubric “Presenting Petitions”.85 The Chair has on occasion limited the number of distinct petitions presented at one time by a single Member to five.86 This allows more Members to be recognized within the 15-minute time limitation.
No debate is permitted during the presentation of petitions.87 Any comment on the merits of a petition—even a Member’s personal agreement or disagreement with the petitioners—has been deemed to constitute a form of debate and is therefore out of order.88 Members are permitted a brief factual statement, in the course of which they may allude to the petition being duly certified, to its source, to the subject matter of the petition and its prayer, and to the number of signatures it carries.89 In any event, petitions are not to be read in their entirety and Members presenting them should avoid straying into debate or argument.90 In view of the limited time available and the number of Members with petitions to present on any given day, the Chair is generally quick to intervene when Members appear to be making speeches, indulging in debate, or launching into the lengthy reading of the full text of a petition. When many Members wish to present petitions, the Speaker can encourage them to keep their statements brief, and even interrupt them to move on to the next Member.91
Presentation by Filing with the Clerk of the House
Since 1910, Members have had the option of presenting petitions at any time during a sitting of the House by filing them with the Clerk of the House.92 The Member may approach the Table, or may hand the certified and endorsed (with a signature on the back of the last page) petition to a page, with instructions to deliver it to the Table where it is received by the Clerk.
When petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings, the Members’ remarks are recorded, transcribed and published in the Debates for that day. An entry is also made in the Journals, the official record of House proceedings. The petitions are listed as having been certified and presented pursuant to the Standing Orders. Petitions filed with the Clerk are not mentioned in the Debates, but they are listed in the Journals, at the end of the publication. Certified petitions, once presented to the House by either method, are forwarded to the Privy Council Office, which is responsible for their reception and processing. The petitions ultimately end up in the Library and Archives Canada collection.
Petitions have been presented which were later found to be uncertified; in such cases, while the Debates contain the transcription of the Members’ remarks, the petitions in question are not recorded in the Journals.93
Copies of Petitions
Anyone who wishes to read or consult a paper petition after it has been presented may do so by making arrangements with one’s Member of Parliament. The Privy Council Office will produce a photocopy of a petition, including the signatures, for the Member who presented the same to the House of Commons, while it will produce a photocopy of a petition, excluding the signatures, for any other Member.
E-petitions can continue to be consulted on the House of Commons website at any time after the signing period. However, signatures are not made public, even to the sponsoring Member or the Member who had presented the petition to the House.