House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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Government Response to Petitions

Since 1986, the Standing Orders have provided that the Ministry shall respond within 45 calendar days to every petition referred to it. [76]  After certified petitions are presented to the House, they are deposited with the Clerk of Petitions. Under the authority of the Clerk of the House, the original petition is forwarded to the Privy Council Office, [77] which makes arrangements with the appropriate government departments and agencies for the preparation and collection of replies. Government responses to petitions are generally tabled in the House during Routine Proceedings, under the rubric “Tabling of Documents”, but may also be deposited with the Clerk. [78]  Petitions receive individual responses. Any Member who has presented a petition is provided with a copy of the response at the time it is tabled. After being tabled in the House, government responses to petitions (unlike the petitions themselves) become sessional papers. [79] 

The tabling of government responses to petitions is entered in the Journals. If the tabling is done during Routine Proceedings, the government spokesperson, usually the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader, simply informs the House that responses to a certain number of petitions are being tabled; no reference is made to specific petitions or the content of the responses, and the intervention is transcribed in the Debates.

The Standing Orders provide no sanction to apply in the event the government fails to respond to petitions within the 45-day time frame. Complaints have been raised about breaches of this rule. [80]  In 1993, however, the Speaker found a prima facie question of privilege concerning the failure to table an Order in Council and in his ruling made reference to earlier complaints that responses to petitions, answers to written questions and responses to committee reports were not always tabled within the prescribed time limits. [81]  The matter of timeliness was referred to the committee dealing with matters of privilege, which stated in a report to the House that “statutory and procedural time limits must be complied with … It may be that the time periods set out in the Standing Orders and certain statutes need to be reviewed … Until this is done, however, it is essential that the deadlines be respected.” [82] 

While normally all proceedings would be terminated when Parliament is prorogued, the Speaker has ruled that government responses to petitions have the same status as orders for return (documents which the House has ordered to be produced and presented in the House). [83]  Pursuant to the rules, such orders are considered to have been readopted at the start of a new session without a motion to that effect. [84]  Thus, government responses to petitions, ordered in a previous session, must be tabled in a new session following a prorogation. [85] 

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