Burnaby MP calls for e-petitions to Ottawa
If Kennedy Stewart has his way, 50,000 "signatures" on an electronic petition would trigger an hour of debate in Parliament.
Stewart, MP for Burnaby-Douglas, and fellow New Democrat Alexandrine Latendresse (Louis-Saint-Laurent), the party's deputy critic for democratic reform, tabled a motion for the e-petition process which was debated in the House of Commons Friday.
Currently, petitions require a minimum of 25 signatures which an MP presents to the House of Commons. The government then has 45 days to reply with a letter.
"It's a very long tradition, I think the Magna Carta started as a petition," Stewart said in an interview from Ottawa.
But with low voter turnouts, a growing distrust of politicians and fewer people becoming engaged in government in between elections, Stewart felt something needed to be done to open up the political process to ordinary Canadians.
His wife, political science instructor Jeanette Ashe, pointed out the U.K. uses an online petitioning process which results in issues being debated in their parliament once the numbers of signatures reaches a certain threshold. Quebec's National Assembly has also used e-petitions.
Under the e-petition motion, any Canadian resident would be able to request a petition, with the support of any MP. It would then be created and posted on a parliamentary website, with its own URL web address for people to distribute electronically.
To protect privacy, names and email addresses would not be shown on the sites, only the number of signatures. If the number reaches 50,000 or more within six months, the Speaker of the House would present it for one hour of debate which would then require a written reply from government.
The 50,000-signature threshold would also carry more weight than the current 25 signatures for paper petitions, he said, adding he's received a positive response to the idea so far.
"I've already had some interest from the Conservative side of the House and I'm hoping that I can foster goodwill over there and we can get this through."
As a motion, the result of any vote would not be binding on the government, unlike a private member's bill, which is much more difficult to get to a stage where a vote occurs, he explained.
Each MP also gets one chance within their four-year term to have any subject debated for two hours in the House, culminating in a vote. "Right now this is the one I would have debated."
As a member of the opposition against a majority government, Stewart said he was looking to find a democratic reform that would have a realistic chance of moving forward.
In the end, the e-petition motion is about engaging the electorate.
"I think Canadians, in a lot of ways, just want to be heard. A big problem of politics is people don't feel like they're listened to and this goes some way towards helping people have a direct voice in their own government."