|| 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, (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 12 months of the adoption of this order.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to begin debate on my private member's Motion No. 428, a first critical step in bringing electronic petitioning to the House of Commons.
I would like to start with two very positive quotes from two important and outstanding Canadians who directly support my motion. The first may surprise my colleagues on the other side of the House. It is from former Reform party leader, Preston Manning, who, when asked to support my motion, agreed enthusiastically and provided the following quote. He said:
|| To be able to petition one's elected representatives, and to have such petitions addressed, is one of the oldest and most basic of democratic rights. Affirming and re-establishing this right in the 21st century through electronic petitioning is an idea well worth pursuing.
These are some words of wisdom from one of our leading democratic reformers who has pushed for democratic reform in our country for a very long time.
I would like to move to a second supporter of the motion. He is our former leader, NDP giant Ed Broadbent. He said:
|| Bringing electronic petitioning to the House of Commons is a 21st Century idea and one I fully endorse. Empowering Canadians to come together and help set the Parliamentary agenda will breathe fresh air into our democracy.
For Canadians who are watching at home and have been following this debate, and I have had much support on this, these two quotes really outline how Canada needs to change. Canadians, especially at this time, when we are so focused on perhaps changing the institutions here in Parliament, are thinking that we need not only giant changes here but also small ones. Perhaps the small ones are easier to accomplish, especially when we have cross-partisan support.
These quotes from these two prominent Canadians show that there is a real hunger out there for democratic reform. I hope I can persuade my colleagues on the other side of the House to support my motion.
We have done quite a lot of work on the e-petitioning motion. Recent polling by Angus Reid, who we commissioned on this, shows that a full 80% of Canadians support e-petitioning. When one thinks of the diversity of opinions in this country, that is a pretty astounding number that support moving from a paper petition process to e-petitioning. It needs to be recognized.
I have a unique chance here today to have a second first hour of debate on the motion due to the government's decision to prorogue earlier this year. I will take this opportunity to address some of the criticisms of my motion brought forward by the government side of the House in the original first hour of debate, held in June.
For those who were not present for the first hour of debate, I will start with a brief overview of my motion on e-petitioning and what I aim to accomplish with the motion. I would also refer people who are interested in this to my website, which has many more details and outlines support from many more prominent Canadians.
Motion No. 428 instructs the Standing Committee on Procedures and House Affairs, PROC, to undertake a study of the petitioning process and to develop recommendations for how we might improve the process with electronic petitions.
Currently, Canadians can only circulate, collect signatures on, and submit paper-based petitions. It is a popular thing in my riding to petition government by having an officially sanctioned petition signed and submitted by the member of Parliament to the House of Commons. In fact, it is a practice that stretches back centuries. In our current system, if citizens collect 25 names and find an MP to represent their written petitions to Parliament, the government has to respond in writing to the petitioner within 45 days. This is a common practice in the British parliamentary system and in many other systems around the world.
However, as we know, many civil society groups put online petitions on their websites and collect hundreds and even thousands of signatures from Canadians. It is much easier for people to access the system, considering the geographic scope of our country. It allows people in Newfoundland to sign petitions that are initiated in British Columbia and vice versa. These online petitions are currently unofficial. Even though there are thousands of signatures on these petitions, they cannot be submitted to the House of Commons. The cries of those who are asking for change go unanswered under the current system.
My motion calls on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to report back to the House with recommendations as to how we could enhance our current petitioning system and bring it into the 21st century by allowing citizens to post and sign certified petitions online. It sounds like a simple endeavour. It is one that is used in many countries and even in jurisdictions within our own country, such as Quebec and the Northwest Territories.
This is a first critical step in moving toward online petitions. I have not put forward a private member's bill that would force us to vote on whether we want e-petitioning. In fact, what I am doing is a reasonable first step, which is asking PROC to look at this and come back within 12 months to tell us what we should do to implement electronic petitioning. It has had broad support on both sides of the House and through history in Parliament.
This study would allow us to hear not only from civil society groups and privacy experts but from those familiar with other jurisdictions that use e-petitions so that we can establish best practices for implementing an e-petition system that is fair, efficient, and responsive.
In addition to calling for a comprehensive study, my motion goes further. It suggests that we increase the impact of petitions by maintaining the current paper-based petitions, which are good for local issues, and then move to electronic petitions, which would allow many more Canadians to get involved and would lower the threshold for participation.
The motion proposes that petitioning should trigger a short debate in the House, similar to a take-note debate, if these petitions receive a certain number of signatures—50,000 or 100,000 signatures are used in other jurisdictions—and are sponsored by no fewer than five MPs. That would allow for an issue seen by people as important and worth debating to make it into the House. There would be no votes. There would be an hour of debate to raise the profile of the issue and to bring it out in public.
Not only would citizens be able to post and sign official petitions online but their views and concerns would be debated at the highest level by their elected representatives. That is what we are here to do. We are here to debate, talk about, and deliberate upon important issues in society. Sometimes this House does not often do that. This e-petitioning idea would give citizens more direct access to their governments. That is one of the main reasons I am bringing it forward.
As I mentioned in my first speech on this topic, I have broad support for this motion from my colleagues on this side of the House, those at the end of this side of the House, independents, and even some members on that side of the House, who jointly seconded my motion. I thank them for that, especially the members for and .
In addition to the support of Mr. Manning and Mr. Broadbent, the following have said that they fully endorse my motion for supplementing our e-petitioning process. Another name that might surprise members is the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. It is on board with this as are Samara, Leadnow, and OpenMedia, which are leading social media and online-based groups. It may not surprise members that the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is on board with it, as is Egale. Hundreds of Canadians have signed a paper-based petition supporting this motion.
There is a lot of support for this and no reason it should not go forward. It is not a bill that prescribes what an e-petitioning system would look like. It is a motion for a study on what e-petitioning would look like. It would have to be reported back to the House in 12 months, before the next election.
I will now move to objections from previous debates. I feel lucky to have been able to hear what my opponents' objections were to this and to be able to address them in this short speech.
The concerns relate to first, costs. Second was experiences in other countries. Members on the other side of the House were interested in that. Third was a concern about frivolous issues being debated in the House. Fourth was the technical matter of the exact wording of the motion.
Let us turn to cost concerns, and we have really done our homework on this. We have talked with top political scientists around the country who helped us design the motion, and in fact we have made great use of the Library of Parliament. Library officials have told us the costs in various jurisdictions, including Quebec and the Northwest Territories, are minimal and mostly rely on existing resources to get the job done.
That many jurisdictions outside of Canada use e-petitioning, such as the U.S. and Britain, shows that this is a reasonable endeavour, and in some cases it lowers costs, because we are going from petitioning by paper to using electronic means.
I am happy to submit any of the costing information to the committee if it is interested, and of course, if we could save money, that would be a great step forward.
Speaking of experience in other countries, there was some concern raised on the other side that other countries have looked at this and not gone ahead with the idea. In fact, after these objections were heard, we went back to the Library of Parliament and asked officials to examine a wide range of democratic countries to see if any jurisdiction had ever terminated a system after putting it in place. The Library of Parliament reported back that no jurisdiction has ever put e-petitioning in place and then taken it out.
The British House of Commons has recently reviewed its petitioning system. It is much like what I have designed here. In fact a lot of the wording has been lifted straight from the British House of Commons system. A committee reported back:
|| The system introduced by the Government has proved very popular and has already provided the subjects for a number of lively and illuminating debates.
That is hardly a government report that says it wants to get rid of this.
In terms of frivolous issues, the concern is that, with 50,000 or 100,000 signatures, we would have frivolous issues directly debated here in the House. I remind the other side that it is not voted on, just debated. That is why I have put the clause in, the suggestion to the committee that it look at having five MPs sign on to any petition that was received with a certain threshold of signatures. This would be an effective check against any frivolous matters. I doubt any of my hon. colleagues in the House would attach their names to silly ideas that would waste the House's time, and even if one would, five certainly would not. I think that is an effective check.
The last question regarding the motion is on the wording of the motion, which some on the other side of the House said perhaps is a little too prescriptive. Recently we have had motions raised in the House, voted upon and passed unanimously that are much prescriptive than this. The motion is asking for PROC to conduct a study and then report back within 12 months. If we cannot be any more prescriptive than that, I doubt we would get anything done here at all.
I do not think the objections raised by the other side of the House should at all be a death knell for the motion. I would think they are so scant that it would encourage members on the other side of the House to support the motion and come forward.
What do we have to lose? We have a system that a lot of people are saying is in crisis. We cannot open a newspaper or turn on a TV without hearing about the current problems in the Senate and a hankering for reform. Here we are in a democratic age and also an electronic age where people are using smart phones and tablets and are so hooked in worldwide and together, which is a good thing, bringing Canadians together, but we have not kept up with that here in the House of Commons.
When I go to high schools to talk about the motion, they cannot believe we still use paper-based petitions. They ask how we have not kept up, especially when they are so prominently featured in the United States and Britain? We really have to get with the times and move.
I close with a quote from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which perhaps may not always be an NDP ally on a lot of issues, but is very supportive here:
|| The Canadian Taxpayers Federation applauds this worthy initiative...to kick-start Parliament on accepting electronic signatures on petitions. When taxpayers get the opportunity to go online and sign an official petition to Parliament, they'll be able to get the attention of Ottawa politicians in a hurry. We also support...[the] suggestion that 50,000 Canadians signing a petition and 5 MPs should be able to force a debate in Parliament. This would help restore...grassroots democracy and accountability on Parliament Hill.
I will leave the House with that quote, and I look forward to questions from the other side and debate in the House on this issue.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to stand today and join this debate on Motion No. 428.
Initially, I would like to congratulate my colleague opposite for bringing forward this motion for debate in this place. I say that because I believe my hon. colleague has brought this forward in an honest attempt to try to have a motion that would increase citizens' engagement in the democratic process. Anyone who brings forward any initiative to try to increase all of our citizens' engagement in the democratic process and parliamentary system should be applauded. However, there are several flaws in this motion that I feel require me to oppose the motion, and I want to articulate that to members in this place this morning.
My primary and overriding concern with Motion No. 428 is that it would require the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to conduct a study with a predetermined outcome. In other words, Motion No. 428 would instruct the procedure and House affairs committee to conduct a study on how to implement a system of electronic petitioning rather than asking the committee to conduct a study as to whether or not a system of electronic petitioning would be beneficial. That is the primary reason why I must oppose the motion.
I believe that a study should be open-minded. A study conducted in any committee on any subject should be to determine the best result rather than predetermine a result. In this case, the member opposite is asking the committee to justify or rationalize the result that the member wants to see. I do not think that is how Parliament works. I do not think that is how Parliament should work.
I believe that if the member is truly convinced that e-petitioning is a proper system for Parliament to adopt, he should then introduce a bill rather than a motion. It could be debated and could be voted upon. A bill would then purport that he has a solution and he would ask Parliament to either ratify it or reject it. However, I do not think it is democratic at all, quite frankly, to suggest that a committee conduct a study with a predetermined outcome. It actually flies in the face of what the member is trying to accomplish.
On that basis alone I would have to oppose this motion, but I think there are some other practical issues that would also prevent me from endorsing and supporting the motion, some of which the member opposite tried to address in his presentation. Before I get into those practical problems, I will just say this.
If the member opposite had suggested that a study be conducted by the procedure and House affairs with an open-ended view as to whether or not e-petitions should be adopted by this place, it would certainly be a motion I could consider supporting. In fact, currently in the procedure and House affairs committee there is an ongoing study on change to the Standing Orders. I think it would take a simple request by the member opposite, in the form of a motion, to ask the procedure and House affairs committee to include a study on petitions in its current study of the Standing Orders. If that were the case, I could mostly certainly consider supporting that motion. Unfortunately, because the member wants to see a predetermined outcome, on principle I simply cannot support it.
I will now turn my attention to some of the practical problems that e-petitions could cause in Parliament.
The member opposite speaks to the systems of e-petitioning that have already been adopted in the United Kingdom and United States. He basically says that all of the charges of frivolous petitions coming forward are really nonsensical or, quite frankly, should be dismissed. I do not see it that way, and I will give a few specific examples of petitions that have reached the threshold of 100,000, which is required in the United Kingdom, and that have been debated in its Parliament.
One of the issues was on surgery in a local hospital. I am sure that is a very real concern to members in that particular area of the United Kingdom, but debating a local issue in the parliament of the United Kingdom, I do not think so. There have also been other debates that have occurred in Britain's parliament, one on a beer duty escalator. What in the world would parliamentarians be doing to enhance democracy for the entire country on a debate such as that?
Then there are petitions brought forward, hoping for debates, by special interest groups. In the United States there have been petitions that have reached the 100,000 signature mark on whether or not Texas should secede from the United States. Another petition that was initiated and received the mandatory 100,000 signature threshold was on whether or not to impeach President Obama. Are those the types of debates we truly think are worthwhile in anyone's parliament? I do not think so.
In today's day and age, it is quite easy for any well-organized special interest group to reach a 50,000 signature online petition threshold. If we adopted the motion, we would find that more and more we would see frivolous motions brought forward for debate. Whether or not it be inside the regular sitting hours or outside, I do not believe, given the context and the wording of the hon. member opposite's motion, that it would actually enhance democracy and parliamentary debate.
If the member opposite thought long and hard about revising his motion and the wording of his motion, it is something that many parliamentarians could support. However, under the current wording it is simply not something that I could support. Frankly, most parliamentarians, if they carefully read the motion and carefully thought about the arguments I am presenting and many others will present, will have a similar view.
As I mentioned earlier in my comments, if the member opposite truly believes that e-petitioning is a correct route, and he is certainly entitled to his opinion and I applaud him again for his motivation, bring it forward not as a motion but rather as a bill. We could still have the required debate in Parliament but it would at least stand to a vote. That is the proper way in which to bring this forward, rather than instructing the committee to conduct a study, but here is the result that I want.
That is not what studies are about. That is not how parliamentary committees engage in studies. Committees are not here to engage in a study for which the result is already known. That is an affront, frankly, to the intelligence and to the independence of all members, whether they be on that side or our side of the House. I cannot for the life me think why any parliamentarian would agree to engage in a study with the caveat that regardless of what the study finds, this is the result that must be recommended.
That is not democracy. That is not how Parliament works. That is not how Parliament should work. For those reasons, I must oppose Motion No. 428.
Mr. Speaker, if we want to talk about what some people may call frivolous petitions, there was a petition some time ago that called for Stockwell Day to change his name to Doris, which was featured by Rick Mercer on CBC. It was one that we all signed in jest, of course, but I bring that up only by way of illustration. What I mean by that is that the hon. member outlined ways in which we can avoid frivolous petitions such as that.
I had prepared something earlier, but after hearing the member's speech, I am going to play off that for a bit because I thought there were many things in it that are misconceptions or perhaps playing with concepts. I do not understand why the Conservatives are against this, quite frankly. I suspect they will be against it now and introduce it themselves under a blue ribbon at a later date. I will put that on the record. When it happens I am sure my hon. colleague from the NDP and I will both laugh at this one because that is going to happen.
The member said that “a study to determine whether it is a good idea” should have been in the motion. Therefore, he wants a bill. Initially, I would have said yes, a bill would have been great, but as the hon. member points out, that is a little too prescriptive at this juncture. What he is doing is providing the committee instruction to study the idea of how petitions work.
The hon. member across the way says that is not a good idea because now the committee has been told what to do when we should be asking whether electronic petitions are really legitimate. I would argue they are legitimate. Otherwise, actual paper petitions would not be legitimate, if that is the case. It is not about the electronic element of it. What is at the core here is the petitioning of government to seek answers and debate. If the member does not think that we should be studying the idea of whether electronic petitions exist, then he is also calling into question actual petitions, several over the years, if not hundreds, which he has presented himself.
I find this a flimsy argument and I do not understand why the Conservatives would pursue this. I am hoping that other members across the way will support this so we can bring it to the appropriate committee. One of the things I genuinely like about this is the fact that many people get involved in the petition issue more and more over the years because they know that it is going to demand a response from the government. That is a true test of any democracy.
Recently, the Governor General was in Mongolia and one of the issues there was about how to develop a new democracy into something that is more mature, a democracy that is considered to be a prime example of the way democracies should be run around the globe. Certainly, models of democracies in the United Nations would prove that petitioning is a strong element of any democracy. I go back to that argument. If the Conservatives are going to say we should question the idea of electronic petitioning, then why do they not just say question petitioning itself?
I guess what they are saying is the element of it being electronic, e-petitioning, is what they are against. Therefore, they do not like the element of online petitioning or engagement with the public, which is kind of bizarre, really, because recently they told fishermen in my riding that they can no longer visit an office to get licences, they have to go online. In addition to that, they can no longer call Service Canada to check on their files as they are waiting for employment insurance. They cannot visit the office and they cannot call the number. Here is the irony. The government recently mailed out information to constituents of mine and told them if they want information, they are to go online. The matchup here is a little peculiar, to say the least. If members think that changing Stockwell's name to Doris is strange, this whole argument falls apart much like that.
The member talked about frivolous petitions in the sense that a bill needs to have a sponsor. Who in the House would sponsor a bill that would change Stockwell's name to Doris? That is probably a bad question, because I feel that many hands will go up. Let me rephrase that. I am not suggesting this, but imagine if a petition came in here calling for a province to be kicked out of the Confederation of Canada. No one would put their name on it. That's why we talked about the individual sponsoring of a petition. It makes sense. The ultimate gauge will be the member of Parliament who signs something that people feel is frivolous. That MP will pay for it at the polls. That is normally how we do things here and that is the progression.
I would ask members of the House to think for just a moment. If they vote against the motion, they are really voting against the idea of petitioning. Government members may think that is not a bad idea. I will give the House another frivolous petition that may be introduced. How about eliminating public broadcasting, the CBC? I am sorry, that was already introduced in petitions. Many members of the government have already done that. Maybe that is a bad example.
Many members of the House have petitioned over the years. Many members of the government petitioned when they were in opposition. I had the benefit of being here in 2004 and 2006. Some of my colleagues have been here even longer. They can remember how petition after petition presented in the House by a Conservative opposition used to fill up almost an entire hour. I am not saying that was wrong by any means. They are still doing petitions, and that is great because it engages the public. Putting a petition in the House of Commons about a certain issue requires a response from the government. It is an answer to constituents and it is an answer to the country.
Before government members vote on the motion I would ask them to think about it for a moment. According to the argument put forward by the member from Saskatchewan, an argument which I am assuming is the official government line, he is essentially saying that the idea of petitioning is a bad one. If the member wants to give instructions to an appropriate committee about e-petitioning, why does he not just say petitioning? Let us see how that debate would go. Let us gauge how many members would want to eliminate that.
Finally, I commend my hon. colleague for doing this. We have done so much to push us forward into the new age. Just last session we debated a bill that would push international crime surveillance into the electronic age. The Conservatives practically stood on their heads to say it was necessary, that it had to be done because the world is moving forward. Social media and all these elements of electronic communications are now evolving to the point where government is being done on an electronic basis. I already mentioned Service Canada and Fisheries and Oceans, and there are many other aspects of government.
The Conservatives pushed the idea of international surveillance of crime forward into the electronic age and they were proud to do so. However, when it comes to petitioning, they really do not like it so much because it may prove to be frivolous. Whether the government feels it is frivolous or not, a debate on petitions that are sponsored by the appropriate level of MP is a fantastic idea. It would be a way to engage the public in a way we have not before. Really, it would be an extension of what we are already doing. Why the hesitation?
I would like to thank the sponsor of the motion. I urge all members to vote for the motion because it is time for us to catch up with the rest of the country.
Mr. Speaker, this is my first speech since we returned from an extended summer break. I would like to acknowledge my colleagues and welcome them.
I would like to start by congratulating my colleague from for his work on this motion and on electronic petitioning, as well as his overall efforts to represent his constituents. I know this is really important to him. I am very proud to have him as a colleague, since I see how hard he works. I hope he can achieve his dreams of modernizing Parliament.
The motion before us is an important step to bring Canadians closer to the political process, and I think that is why he has focused on it. It really is a first; however, it is still very basic. Unfortunately, we, in the House, in our work, increasingly see citizens and young people lose interest in politics. They feel that the political reality is too remote and makes no impact on their lives and that they have no influence on policy and on us, their members of Parliament.
We need to change that perception by reminding Canadians that they are always the focus of our concerns here in the House of Commons. We also need to provide them with more tools to give them greater influence in the House. We need tools that create more interaction between Canadians and politicians.
This motion will help improve Canadian democracy and the vitality of our participatory institutions. Our petition system is, quite frankly, a dinosaur. Innovations in information technology have made the paper-only petition process obsolete. We need a tool from this century—or even from the last century, since we are that far behind—so that Canadians can communicate easily with their elected representatives.
My hon. colleague's motion will allow us to work in that direction in a professional, thoughtful manner, because it calls on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to make recommendations to establish an electronic petitioning system that would allow Canadians to sign petitions electronically.
This is very simple: we want Canadians to be able to sign a petition that the House will receive via the Internet. The particulars of this request are to be debated by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, which was already mentioned earlier.
I want to be very clear. If this motion passes, the House would be sending a clear message that we want to modernize how we do things in Parliament in order to include Canadians more. We would be calling on the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to carry out this modernization, but most of all, we would be recognizing the importance of doing so. I do not know what else to say about the speech given by one of my colleagues, who said that we would be skipping some steps. The House needs to recognize the need to modernize. That is the right decision. We need to move forward.
This is a very clear request to refer the matter to a very competent body that could really introduce these measures in an appropriate manner, both legally and procedurally.
My colleague has also made some proposals that could be incorporated, including the possibility of having a debate in the House of Commons outside of regular sitting hours once a certain number of signatures has been collected. He also suggested that a petition be sponsored by five members and be tabled in the House. I like those suggestions.
The fact that we would have to debate the subject of a petition signed by a significant number of Canadians is not even the most important thing here. When that many Canadians sign a petition, they need to know that the issue has been acknowledged and studied by the House and that proposals are being heard and truly taken into consideration by the political parties. We owe them that.
The majority of Canadians would be surprised to know that this is not already something we do when enough people sign a petition. In fact, when a petition is presented, the minister responds and it ends there. Canadians would like to have more influence over what is discussed in the House
Requiring a petition to also have the support of a certain number of members is another effective measure against abuses.
While I support these proposals, I would like to remind members opposite—and other members who are not sure they will support this motion—that these are suggestions that the committee should evaluate. Giving the committee the authority to establish the best way forward for Parliament and for our country is a very good idea.
Unfortunately, certain Conservative members too often oppose excellent bills because they are unhappy with small details. They sometimes use that to try and divide the House. I really see this as an opportunity to engage in non-partisan work.
In this case, I am very optimistic that we will embrace the necessary changes proposed by this motion. I hope it will be adopted.
All Canadians will benefit from this change because it is clear that the Internet is becoming more prevalent in our lives. However, it is mostly young people who will be affected by this motion because, as we all know, they communicate mainly via the Internet and social media. That is also the main way they participate in the democratic process. Young people are at ease with using new technologies and the Internet in every aspect of their lives. This really is a way to bring home the political process for them.
It is something I see in my everyday life and when I visit schools, universities or the homes of young people in my riding and across the country. For me and these young people, it is completely incomprehensible that the House of Commons does not recognize online petitions. Apparently, technology is everywhere but in the House of Commons.
It is possible to make purchases and fill out a variety of official forms online. My colleague from the Liberal Party mentioned that many government services are available only online these days. If we want to be sure that people are included, the House must accept both paper and electronic petitions.
We are even trying to put together a pilot project to make House standing committees paperless. This is something that we could also do in the House and not just in committee.
Since I have been in office, I have met with young people across the country and in all of the Atlantic provinces. I have led discussions on youth involvement in politics. Young people were really shocked to learn that only paper petitions could be circulated and submitted to their federal MPs. They were really surprised. It made them feel even farther removed from the process and their MP. That is very unfortunate.
I got the same reaction when I visited universities in western Canada, Ontario and other areas. Young people were really surprised to learn that we are so behind the times when it comes to technology. Young people across the country feel the same way about this situation.
My riding of Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel is located in Quebec. This province uses electronic petitions. I went to speak in youth centres. The young people there are not necessarily old enough to vote yet but I want them to start thinking about getting involved in politics and I want them to be heard. The young people were completely shocked to learn that they had to circulate paper copies of petitions, particularly when the province accepts electronic petitions.
In closing, I would like to say that I sincerely believe that we must vote in favour of this motion in order to make the voices of all Canadians heard in the House, to speak on their behalf and to find out their concerns.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Motion No. 428, sponsored by the member for , which would instruct the procedure and House affairs committee to recommend changes to the Standing Orders to establish an electronic petitioning system.
The motion would prescribe changes to our convention governing petitions so as to establish an electric petition system. It would also require the committee to consider, among other things, the possibility of a debate in the House outside of sitting hours when a threshold of signatures was reached.
I heard my friend from the Liberal Party, probably the finest weatherman in the House, give all of his reasons why we should support the motion. When I listened to some of his comments with respect to frivolous petitions that he could picture, it gave that whole background on why electronic petitions may or may not be all that effective when it came to changing people's names or seceding parts of the country by electronic petition unless we had some other means to deal with these things. I would suggest that the House would be terribly tied up in dealing with those.
I will begin by noting the unusual nature of the motion, namely, that it would seek to predetermine the study of the procedure and House affairs committee.
The motion would prescribe a resolution to a study the committee had not conducted. Rather than asking the procedure and House affairs committee to undertake an examination of our petition system, the motion would dictate to the committee that it must recommend changes to the Standing Orders to implement an electronic petition system. In other words, the motion would require that the committee report lead to the implementation of an electronic petition system for the House.
I find that an affront to the members of the committee and, more fundamental, to the principle that committees are masters of their own affairs. Instead, the committee should have the ability to review the effectiveness of our petition system under review of the Standing Orders and decide on its on terms whether changes are needed.
While the House provides the standing committees with the powers to examine and enquire into all such matters as may be referred to them, our standing committees have broad powers to undertake studies relating to their mandates.
The procedure and House affairs committee has already undertaken a study on the Standing Orders. It would seem reasonable that a proposal to modernize the petition system could be studied within that context. Should the committee study this issue as part of the Standing Order study, it would certainly want to develop recommendations based upon witness testimony and other research.
The member for has an academic background. Prior to being elected, he was a professor at the Simon Fraser University. I find it strange that the member is trying to undermine the principle of evidence-based research by reading the text of the motion:
|| That the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to recommend changes to the Standing Orders... to establish an electronic petitioning system....
As opposed to evidence-based decision-making, the member has proposed decision-based evidence-making.
While I am willing to support a study to investigate initiatives to modernize our petitioning system as part of the procedure and House affairs committee study on the Standing Orders, I will not support the motion. If the committee chooses to conduct this review, as a member of the committee, I would hope we would have the ability to hold meetings, hear from witnesses and come up with recommendations, as opposed to having the outcome dictated by the motion.
I will now turn to the important democratic role that petitions play in the House of Commons.
This is where more of my concerns with this motion rest. The presenting of petitions by members of Parliament is a key feature in the democratic representation of the views of constituents in this House. Not only are petitions a key feature of democratic representation, but they are also a long-standing feature of the House.
The House has also provided for the presentation of petitions by members. At the time of Confederation, the rule allowed members to make a statement identifying from whom the petition came, the number of signatures attached to it, and the material allegations it contained.
While the rules governing petitions have changed, namely by providing a rubric in routine proceedings specifically for this purpose, the presentation of petitions in the House has largely stayed intact. One could assume that the system has worked and continues to work, in that petitions create a clear link between constituents and the members who represent them.
The motion before us seeks to alter that relationship. We should all tread very carefully with changes to our rules that could seek to undermine the connection between members and their constituents.
Unfortunately, despite this caution, we are asked by this motion to simply accept its terms without meetings. I would not support that.
Our current rules allow members to table over 2,000 petitions each year on a wide range of issues of concern to Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Most jurisdictions share the same approach we have with respect to petitions. The jury is still out on the long-term effect of electronic petitions; however, the experiences of the United Kingdom and the United States indicates that electronic petitions can have very negative consequences for citizen engagement and parliamentary operations and can empower special interest groups to advance their issues.
That is why I am going to oppose Motion No. 428, and I call on all members to do likewise.