Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you for the invitation to address the committee in its review of the House of Commons e-petition system.
To provide some context, I will begin with a brief summary of the current process. Essentially an e-petitioner creates an account, provides some basic personal information, and then drafts the petition using a standardized template provided on the e-petitions website.
Next, the e-petitioner must identify at least five supporters and choose a member of Parliament to act as the sponsor of the petition. Members have 30 days to respond. If they refuse to be the sponsor or if no response is received within the 30 days, the petitioner may select another member. If five members have declined to sponsor the petition, it would not be allowed to proceed.
Once a member is a sponsor, the petition is reviewed for conformity, translated, and is then open for signatures for 120 days on the website. Those that garner fewer than 500 signatures are simply archived on the site, while those with 500 signatures or more may be presented in the House once the sponsor receives a certificate containing the text of the petition and the total number of signatures.
The process of presenting the e-petition to the House is identical to that for paper petitions, although only government responses to petitions are posted on the website.
The e-petitions site has generated significant interest. In the last year it has accounted for roughly one-third of all traffic on the House of Commons website, with approximately 2.5 million visits to the e-petitions site from over 3,000 different communities. Of these, 40% were redirected from social media sites, and about two-thirds of visits occurred on mobile devices. This shows that the social media sharing tools and the mobile responsiveness of the site were important aspects of its design.
During this time, 1,343 e-petitions have been created, 400 or 30% of which have been published on the site, collectively garnering over 1.1 million signatures. The primary reasons for which petitions are not published are that the draft is simply not completed by the petitioner or the petition is withdrawn before reaching the publication stage. It is quite rare for e-petitions to be found inadmissible given the guidelines established by the committee and outlined in the Standing Orders and the templates and user guides available on the site.
Among the 400 published e-petitions, 70% have reached the required minimum of 500 signatures. In addition, the site has proven to be quite secure, allowing for strong protections for the personal information that is gathered.
That being said, with certain modifications, including increased flexibility, this process and system could be made even more efficient. For example, the 120-day signature deadline prevents petitions that reach the 500-signature threshold quickly—the average is nine days—from being presented earlier. If fewer than five sponsors respond, or if some are ineligible, then the petition cannot proceed. The wording of a petition is reviewed only after a member has agreed to sponsor it, making it difficult to finalize the language of the petition.
Finally, differences remain between the rules to certify paper and electronic petitions.
For example, the threshold for signatures is 25 for paper petitions but 500 for electronic ones. Other requirements, such as the size of the paper on which they are submitted, still exist for paper petitions only.
That efficiencies can be found does not detract from the overall success of our e-petition system. In fact, it has positioned us to respond to this committee recommendation for a uniform and accessible electronic format for government responses to both e-petitions and paper petitions. I can assure the committee that the appropriate consultations with the Privy Council Office have already begun.
One of the main considerations has been whether it would be possible to envisage a paperless system for all responses to petitions, and whether it could serve as the basis for a broader system of electronic sessional papers. Such a system could one day allow for other types of documents which are tabled in the House, such as answers to written questions, to be filed electronically and published more widely than is currently the case.
I wish to thank you, Mr. Chair, for this opportunity. Mr. Gagnon and I would be pleased to respond to any questions that members may have.