House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-4.


Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC


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.

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 Saskatoon—Humboldt and Edmonton—St. Albert.

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 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.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is something that is really necessary as technology has enabled Canadians from across the land to participate directly by getting engaged through the Internet. It is only a question of time before we actually acknowledge it.

I, for one, have used petitions with my constituents. People respond quite well and favourably to petitions. They feel as if they are being consulted and asked for their participation and opinions.

I wonder if the member might want to share some of his thoughts about the important role petitions play in enabling our constituents to express their opinions on the issue at hand? In this case, the issue at hand is the petition.

I have used petitions dealing with, for example, retirement age, crime and safety in our community and a wide variety of different issues that I think are important to my constituents. They respond by signing those petitions. This is just another extension of the ability of members of Parliament in working with their constituents in gathering support and getting a better sense of what they feel are important issues at the grassroots level.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know that a number of people who are not within the NDP, members of other parties, have said they support this because they actively use petitions within their constituencies, and this would make things a lot easier. I thank the hon. member for his support and I look forward to his support during the vote that will be coming up later this year.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am extremely proud to support the motion by my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas.

This kind of electronic petitioning system has already been set up in Quebec and is running very well. Indeed, the results are very clear because electronic petitioning encourages public involvement. Like my colleague, I support the modernization of our democratic system. I know he is prepared to work with all parties in the House.

Could he comment on the support he has also received from groups across Canada?

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her support. In fact, if anyone really wants to see her support, they should go to our website,, where they can see a video from my colleague, explaining in French how great this motion is.

I would like to say that there is growing support in the House for this motion. Many colleagues have stopped me in the hallway and said they will support it. I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her support. I hope we can get this done.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague what types of organizations have also got involved with this. There are a lot of third-party organizations that have been pushing for reform in this matter. We have had communications in my office with a number of groups that support this initiative. I would like to hear from my colleague about a particular one.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have read a number of quotes, from Ed Broadbent, Preston Manning and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. I will read a quote from Leadnow, which is one of the most prominent online groups that support this. Leadnow said:

Leadnow helps hundreds of thousands of Canadians take action on the issues they care about online, through social media, and in their communities. We fully support bringing e-petitions to parliament as it will help strengthen the voices of Canadians and enable them to reach decision makers more effectively.

That sentiment is echoed through many civil society groups that have contacted me on this issue. They see it as a bright light in what seems to be a rather dark period for Parliament.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Burnaby—Douglas for bringing forth this important motion. I do hope it will get support from across the aisles. In my own riding, a group of constituents from Saanich—Gulf Islands raised the same issue with me. I have a petition in support of the idea.

I wonder if there is anything my hon. colleague would like us to do on this side of the House in getting people's support. It is really a non-partisan issue.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Kennedy Stewart NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think what is important here is for all of us to talk about this motion with colleagues and people we have made friendships with who are open to reasonable change in the House.

If this went all the way through and were introduced, it would not affect the business here in the House greatly, but it would impact the lives of Canadians.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

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.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

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.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Mylène Freeman NDP Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

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 Burnaby—Douglas 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.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Motion No. 428, sponsored by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, 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 Burnaby—Douglas 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.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before resuming debate, I must inform the hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville that she has just two minutes for the first part of her speech.

The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business



Charmaine Borg NDP Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by congratulating my colleague from Burnaby—Douglas.

As the digital issues critic, I think it is extremely important to modernize our democracy and for the House of Commons to reflect 21st-century realities and the digital age. That is exactly what this motion does.

In this digital age it is much easier for people to communicate with their MP. It is much easier for them to access information on important issues and share that information with others. Petitions are an important part of that communication and awareness-raising by people on the Internet.

It is therefore essential that the House recognize electronic petitions. Whether we like it or not, our society communicates using the Internet and social networks. Without those tools, the House will not reflect life in the 21st century and the digital age.

As the digital issues critic, I often hear people in the community asking why electronic petitions are not accepted. I hear this from people in my riding, but also from people I meet when I am travelling. This is what people want, and according to my colleague's study, 80% of Canadians support this motion.

I would also like to say that having this debate after receiving a petition with 50,000 signatures, supported by five MPs, is also very important. People are increasingly disenchanted with politics. They want their voices to be heard and their MPs—who were elected to represent them—to debate the issues that matter to them.

This debate on electronic petitioning is essential to the House, because it will help our institution better represent what people want.

Electronic PetitionsPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Terrebonne—Blainville will have eight minutes left when the House resumes debate on this motion.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

The House resumed from October 25 consideration of the motion that Bill C-4, A second act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures, be read the second time and referred to a committee and of the amendment.

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders


Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, thank you for that mouthful of an introduction this morning. It is still a title I am trying to get used to. It is a little rough around the edges.

It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to this particular piece of legislation this morning because of its importance to our country.

It is time for us to take a look at the last five years of our country's economy. If we rewind to this time in 2008, there was a lot of angst in the global community around the global finance system, economic growth, and the prospect of countries not being able to pay some of their debts. It was a time of great uncertainty. We saw a lot of uncertainty with our major trading partner, the United States.

I was not in the House at that time, but working out in the field, we looked at the situation as professionals and wondered if a deal was going to go through. What would it mean for our staff? Were we going to be able to achieve our targets? Were we going to be able to do what our business wanted to do? Those were questions many Canadians were asking. They were wondering if they would have a job at the end of that time.

When I look at what our government has accomplished since then through our successive economic action plans, including the implementation act that we are talking about today, it is amazing where Canada is at. Our job creation record of one million net new jobs since the time when we marked the beginning of the economic recovery in 2009 puts our country at the top among the G7 countries. We certainly have an excellent track record among organizations such as the International Monetary Fund. I believe they have called our country one of the best places to do business. Those are facts that show that Canada is really coming into its own in terms of being an economic powerhouse on the world stage.

Certainly the execution of an agreement in principle around the Canada-European trade agreement is very positive for Canada's long-term economic growth prospects. I was speaking with an importer and a distributor in Winnipeg on Friday; they are actually looking at increasing the number of their retail stores in Canada because they see that this trade agreement positions them so well to be able to bring in new products.

It is not just about economic growth, it is about the impact on consumers, and overall it is our government's economic plans that have really positioned Canada to be talking about where we go next. How do we grow above and beyond the success that we have seen? That is what this particular bill seeks to do: it seeks to accelerate Canada's economic growth prospects.

Some of the items that I think are very positive and that I hope my colleagues will support include extending and expanding the hiring credit for small businesses, which we believe will benefit an estimated 560,000 employers; increasing and indexing the lifetime capital gains exemption to make investing in small business more rewarding; and expanding the accelerated capital cost allowance to further encourage investments in clean energy generation. I talked to a bunch of stakeholders in Calgary about a month and a half ago about this particular piece of information, and they were very excited about it. Another positive item is freezing employment insurance premium rates for three years, leaving $660 million in the pockets of job creators and workers in 2014 alone.

If I have some time toward the end of my speech, I would like to continue going through some of the other provisions in this act that will allow Canada's economy to continue to grow and prosper; however, at this moment I would like to talk about my department and how we are trying to grow Canada's economy, specifically in the west.

As the House knows, there are regional development agencies in each part of the country. I represent western economic diversification. It has a very dynamic group of staff and individuals who are committed to seeing Canada's western economy, which is certainly a powerhouse for the rest of the country, grow, diversify, and prosper in new ways. One of the key ways we can do that is through getting innovation to market and encouraging an innovative ecosystem and culture.

I have worked in the innovative sector, research administration, and intellectual property management in western Canada for over ten years, so it has been a great pleasure to be part of this portfolio. One of the things that I heard from my stakeholder consultations over the summer was that oftentimes, when small and medium-sized enterprises try to take a product or new process to market, there is actually a capital gap in the product development life cycle.

For example, for people running a small company that has a new device or tool that they think is going to be able to expand their business, create new jobs, and create opportunities for highly qualified personnel, taking that from concept to actually scaling it up, testing it, and looking at the ways that it can be manufactured is the particular piece of work that oftentimes the people running small and medium-sized enterprises cannot find funding for in terms of venture capital or traditional lenders, and often, although we have an excellent track record in funding basic research through our tri-councils, it is that particular gap in the product development life cycle that we sometimes see entrepreneurs struggle with.

As a result, on Friday, again in direct alignment with our government's economic action plan priorities and as part of our economic action plan, I announced the western innovation initiative, or WINN for short. This is something I am very excited about for western Canadian entrepreneurs, because it will actually fill that gap to a certain extent.

One of the key things about this particular program is that it is geared toward small and medium-sized enterprises, and we are certainly hoping to see many people apply for it when the new round of funding opens up on November 8. We hope to see several new products advance to market from this initiative.

Some of the details of the program, as outlined on WED's website, include being eligible to apply for up to $3.5 million in a repayable contribution. We are looking at projects that we hope can get to market within three years and will therefore be able to pay back this loan so that future generations of entrepreneurs can also benefit from the same fund while respecting taxpayers' dollars.

While it is a small component, it speaks to the larger economic agenda that this government has consistently had, which is to grow Canada's economy and seek growth and prosperity for all Canadians. If entrepreneurs listening out there today in western Canada fall under those criteria of being a small or medium-sized enterprise that has been in operation for a year or more and has fewer than 500 employees and may be facing that funding gap, I hope they will apply in this first round and be considered for this new pool of funding. It is a great thing.

Some of the other components of economic action plan 2013 include closing tax loopholes and combatting tax evasions. Some of the important components of this part of the legislation include introducing new monetary penalties and criminal offences to deter the use, possession, sale, and development of electronic suppression of sales software designed to falsify records for the purpose of tax evasion; closing tax loopholes related to character conversion transactions, synthetic dispositions, leveraged life insurance arrangements, and other schemes, to ensure that everyone pays their fair share; and extending in certain circumstances the period during which the Canada Revenue Agency can reassess a taxpayer who fails to report income from foreign property. Some of these components sound quite technical, but they are actually positive in that we would make the tax system more robust and ensure that people who are contributing in Canada's very prosperous economy are paying their fair share, which we think is very positive.

There are some other very positive components, including measures for post-secondary students. This act would provide for the modernization of the Canada student loans program by moving to electronic service delivery. That is a really positive thing. I remember having to go and stand in those lines, and this change would be really great for some of our post-secondary students.

I certainly hope that my colleagues opposite will have a look through this act and realize that there are provisions in it that would be really good for this country and for the long-term economic health of Canada. We can all rise today and be proud of where our country is in terms of economic growth and in terms of our prospects for being a world leader internationally, not just now but for decades to come. I certainly hope that colleagues will support this bill, because many good common-sense measures that would support the average Canadian are included in it.

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we start into questions and comments, I would just say that we have only five minutes in this period, so members who go on for more than about a minute, either in their question or in response, will be cut off in order to give more time for other hon. members to participate.

The hon. member for Windsor West.

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the government has also cut back services. It has closed my immigration office to the public. It has closed the consular services in Detroit. It is, unbelievably, closing our veteran's office. It has also removed our postal services to London.

I would like to ask the hon. member a question with regard to the assertion that the government has created a million jobs. If it has created a million jobs, could she tell me in what sectors? What percentage is in the auto sector, the agriculture sector or the health science fields? The Conservatives talk about a million jobs created. In what sectors have they been created and what are the percentages?

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, in terms of sectors across the economy, my colleague, I believe, mentioned the manufacturing sector. I would ask him to check his leader's economic thought policy around the manufacturing sector when he talked about Dutch disease. We have a booming energy sector in the west that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the next 25 years, I would hope, across various sectors in the Canadian economy. He said that the manufacturing sector shrunk because of the energy sector, which has been proven false by, I believe, Statistics Canada and many other think tank groups. The New Democrats need to get their economic policy in line before they start looking at ours.

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to raise an issue about which I believe many Canadians are concerned. Time and time again we hear it is a very important issue. Many, including myself, would say it is in the top three and possibly the number one issue, and that is health care.

The government has brought in budget after budget, but it tends to want to ignore the importance of the issue of renewing the health care accord. The accord is going to expire in 2014. The reason we have the funding we have today is because of the health care agreement. That is what has allowed us to get that record level of health care services, dollars and resources to our provinces so Canadians can feel comfortable in knowing they have a health care system from coast to coast to coast. When is the government going to deliver on a renewed health care accord?

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, frankly, I am shocked that my colleague brought this up, given that it was his party that slashed and burned funding to the provinces during its tenure in government.

Our government's philosophy to managing the finances of our country is pragmatic and it is the same as any Canadian family would undertake. When a Canadian family looks at its chequebook, it says that if it needs to balance, there are two ways to do that, either by bringing in more revenue or spending less. Any business that asks this questions knows that those two components can be balanced. It can deliver good, effective service, but also ensure that it happens in a context that is respectful of the taxpayer dollars.

I am just shocked that my colleague would bring this up, given the Liberals' record on health care transfers to the provinces.

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Speaker, all the members opposite talk about is spending and never address the issue of how our country and our economy can create the wealth for which we can have all these great social services that our government is funding.

Could the minister tell us why it is important to have a climate for economic growth and what our budget is doing to ensure that economic growth continues?

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act No. 2Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my hard-working colleague on his moose, which his constituents will appreciate.

Our government has consistently stated that one of our key goals is to get back to balance. As our Minister of Finance has stated, we are well on track to do that. If we contrast that with the economic policy of my colleagues opposite, their shadow budget did not even include numbers. The shocker is that numbers are important when it comes to a budget. Then my colleague opposite from the third party, his only policy to date has basically been up in smoke.