Evidence of meeting #77 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was petition.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Charles Robert  Clerk of the House of Commons
André Gagnon  Deputy Clerk, Procedure

12:20 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

Yes, but at the same time, as was pointed out, it seems to be easily managed, and you can do it quite often in nine days.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

I see, but you cannot do that.... That's right, you said that earlier. You cannot present it to the House, even if you achieve the 500 within that period. All right. That's a very good point.

On the privacy issue, if I go around my riding and put together a petition, or someone I know does it, I can get access to all the information, and so on and so forth. Does the sponsor of this petition get access to the information as to who has signed?

12:20 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Procedure

André Gagnon

When you mention sponsor, do you mean the member of Parliament who is sponsoring the petition?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

No, I'm sorry. I'm using the wrong terminology.

Well, it's actually both, either the member of Parliament or the person organizing the petition. Thank you for that.

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Procedure

André Gagnon

If we refer to the petitioner, that is the person who organizes the petition. That person would have access only to the names of the supporters. The five supporters they need to identify, but that's the information they give out themselves. They don't have access at all to the, let's say, 2,000 signatories to the petition. They would not have access to that.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

They don't have access to the names or anything.

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Procedure

André Gagnon

The only thing they would have is the information on the website as of now, which is to indicate how many signatories come from each of the provinces and territories. That's it.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

That is it.

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Procedure

André Gagnon

Yes.

As for the member of Parliament who is the eventual sponsor of a petition, that person gets the basic information of the petitioner, the person who initiates it. As you can imagine, in some cases the member of Parliament would like to get in contact and talk on the phone with this individual to see what the motivations are behind that, the story behind all of those things, and to get more information. However, that's the only information provided to the sponsor.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

That is the e-petitioner information only.

12:25 p.m.

Deputy Clerk, Procedure

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

That's all I have for now, because I'm interested to hear what Mr. Stewart has to say.

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Go ahead, Mr. Stewart.

November 7th, 2017 / 12:25 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be part of the e-petitions odyssey as it continues along.

I remember my wife suggesting this idea to me way back when I drew the lottery number for the private member's bill and was supported, of course, by Mr. Christopherson, Mr. Simms, and eventually the whole Parliament. It's really neat to see what happened after all that.

That 1.1 million Canadians have signed electronic petitions and that it accounts for a third of the traffic on the website is a great success. It has a lot to do with the work that happened at the PROC committee. When you're a proponent of such ideas, sometimes you're keen or overstretched. I think PROC did a good job in reeling in my expectations. The clerks did such a good job of making sure that the security concerns were met. It has been dealt with in such a professional manner. In fact, I've had many jurisdictions contact me to ask what the lessons are, because they want to put this in place. I think it's a good example right around the world.

Initially, the ideas came from the U.K. and the United States. When you look at the U.K. example, you see that it started off a lot like us. It had e-petitions that didn't really have a prize at the end, other than a response, but eventually, as the petitioning system developed, more and more people started signing.

If you're looking at the figures, it's 1.1 million signatories, but most of those have come within the last few months anyway. We've had one petition recently that had 130,000 signatures, one that had 70,000, and one that had 50,000, all on different issues and all from different parties, so it's a good cross-partisan thing.

What was found in the U.K. was that this was a self-training system: you signed an e-petition for the first time and you got an email back saying that this was the response from the government, and then you began to think about how this thing works, and then you started your own. That's what we're seeing: a ramping up of participation and traffic. It is similar to what happened in the U.K.

What happened in the U.K. was that signatures rose to 400,000 or 500,000, eventually crossing the million threshold. The government began to wonder, “What do we do now?” What will happen when a million Canadians—it will happen at some point—sign an electronic petition? Will a response that's emailed back be enough? Is that enough when one thirty-fifth of your country signs something?

The answer provided was that if an electronic petition crosses a certain threshold, then it triggers either a study by a committee or a debate in the House of Commons. That would be like a non-binding take-note debate. In fact, the U.K. found great satisfaction with that, because there were many things rippling under the currents of society in the U.K. that weren't being addressed in Parliament, so this debate allowed it to address those issues.

If we're thinking about making changes, I definitely think we should keep this, because it seems to be working well. The concerns expressed in PROC earlier have been met. It has been well shepherded by the clerks, who have paid a lot of attention to it. We could consider the next step, which is what would an e-petition of 100,000 or 500,000 signatures trigger? Would there be something else other than a response back?

I would suggest something like a take-note debate. That was in my original super-keen proposal, but now that we've had a very wise decision to have a test run to show that the data is all protected, that Canadians are interested, that there is international interest, and that most people seem very happy with it, could we move to the next point where there is...not a reward, but some kind of acknowledgement that there's a significant issue within Canadian society that Canadians are engaging in?

That's perhaps the challenge...not a challenge, but a suggestion I would make to the committee. Is there perhaps any light that could be shed on it if we moved to that stage or that addition to these changes to the Standing Orders?

12:30 p.m.

Clerk of the House of Commons

Charles Robert

I think it's a very attractive idea. It helps to encourage the whole notion that we live increasingly with the digital world, with the ambition of enhancing our participatory democracy.

One of the real differences, which goes to Mr. Simms's question about the level of support required, is that when you're doing this on paper, you're actually doing it very physically, using your time, and you're geographically constrained. You have to take it to the shopping centre and hope that people will sign it. Once you launch it onto the website, it's actually nationwide and it's accessible 24-7.

I remember one MP from way back when, in the old days, who remarked how his life was changing dramatically because he was getting tons of correspondence from people but could no longer rely on knowing that they were his constituents. They were people from across the country who had complaints to raise with the member, or issues to raise, and they wanted them addressed.

With petitions, clearly, if citizens in vast numbers want to participate, that's something that I suppose Parliament would want to take note of. The idea of having a further debate to have an exchange of views among the membership of the House would not necessarily be a bad thing, to acknowledge that in fact the signing of these petitions in vast numbers made a difference in terms of the agenda of the House.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Could I add one other point?

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Yes.

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

Looking through the data, what I found really exciting was the number of signatures that were coming from the north, from Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. It's almost impossible for an MP to go to remote communities to deliver or to collect paper petitions. Electronic petitioning has allowed remote and northern communities to participate in a way that they've never done before. Again, that's an unintended side effect, but it's something that's very good to see.

Thank you very much.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

I'm neutral, but that's a great comment.

12:30 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

What is the threshold in the U.K.?

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

It's 100,000.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Graham is next.

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thanks, Chair. I only have a couple of quick questions. They're more for Mr. Stewart than the Clerk.

You talked about the process in the United Kingdom forcing a debate. This ties back to earlier studies of PROC. Is that debate in the secondary debating chamber?

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby South, BC

It can be in either one, I think, but that's where they usually take place.