Ontario may allow e-petitions, but not without more study

The Speaker of Ontario's legislature says the "day has come" for a decision on whether Ontarians should be able to electronically submit petitions to government.

Liberal-dominated committee says electronic petitions could boost citizen engagement

The "day has come" for Ontario to decide whether people should be able to electronically submit petitions to government — but likely not without more study, more debate and even more time.

The issue has been discussed at a government committee since at least 2012, and now, four years later, it has issued a report recommending e-petitions be adopted.

But, not so fast: first the legislature's clerk should launch a study to determine the best e-petition model, look at what it would cost to either design a system or purchase existing software, then write her own report on it, the committee recommended.

Progressive Conservative Randy Hillier has been pushing for e-petitions for years and said it has "been a very painful process, to say the least."

"You wouldn't think something as simple as using technology to allow people to express their opinions and views to government would be so painstakingly onerous," he said Wednesday.

"If it's going to take the legislature four-plus years to do something as simple as allowing e-petitions, my god, what do we do with a real problem?"

The Progressive Conservatives aren't pleased with the report, saying its recommendations would lead to restrictions that don't exist now for paper petitions and an increased cost to taxpayers.

The Liberal-dominated committee used the process to move toward a petition system the Liberals wanted, "giving no credit and little thought to the initial intentions to simply integrate electronic petitions into the existing framework," the party wrote in a dissenting opinion of the report.

Speaker Dave Levac says it's now up to the legislature, and not him, whether to move forward on it, but he says it's an appropriate time to look at the issue.

"Its day has come to make a decision," he said.

But that decision-making process could take even more time, Levac noted.

"If it's a model that is not palatable to any one of the parties it will end up being debated with house leaders and it will go through the whole rout that is needed to make any changes in the legislature," he said.

When other jurisdictions have studied e-petitions some have chosen not to adopt them at all, while others have built whole new systems for them, he said. Among the concerns is verifying who is signing the e-petitions.

"Because the Internet is so open we could be getting signatures from Japan," he said. "We could be getting signatures from Mickey Mouse."

The federal government already hosts e-petitions on its website.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it is "long past due" in Ontario, but e-petitions shouldn't replace paper ones.

"I think there's a lot of folks who like to actually put their pen to paper and sign their name," she said. "It's a solid way of making a statement. We know lots of people don't have access, necessarily, to online resources."


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