NDP tries to boost citizen engagement with e-petitions

The NDP is trying to get more Canadians interested in what happens on Parliament Hill by changing the rules for how petitions from citizens are presented in the House of Commons.
NDP MP Kennedy Stewart discusses his motion to allow e-petitions in the House of Commons at a news conference Friday. (Kennedy Stewart)

The NDP says it wants to make Parliament more accessible by trying to change the rules for signing the petitions that MPs present to the House of Commons.

British Columbia MP Kennedy Stewart, who wrote a motion up for debate in the House of Commons Friday, said the NDP's idea would bring petitioning into the twenty-first century.

There are guidelines and procedures for citizens to follow if they want an official petition tabled in the House by their MP, and the NDP wants those rules updated.

Currently, if citizens get 25 signatures on a paper form, their MPs can table them in the House.  Kennedy said it would be better if a petition could be signed electronically.

E-petitions could broaden citizens' access to petitions, particularly in large ridings.

The motion also proposes that if 50,000 signatures are collected, the petition would be guaranteed a debate in the Commons. A similar practice is used in the United Kingdom, Kennedy noted, and it would help bypass the gridlock sometimes caused by partisan politics, he said.

In Britain, however, 100,000 signatures are required to trigger a debate.

"It allows citizens to get important issues on to the floor of the House of Commons, into the eyes of the media and the public," he said.

Kennedy said these measures are needed to help address the "disturbing" trends of declining voter turnout and participation in public discourse through means other than the House of Commons.

"It's our feeling that government has to try and do something to reverse these trends," he said.

The NDP motion is one of several issues related to the rules of the House of Commons that is being debated Friday. 

The day's agenda is dedicated to debating issues of procedure, and the Liberals are trying to amend the existing rules to limit the ability of committee meetings to be held in secret.

The Liberals are proposing a standing order that would ensure all future meetings are held in public except under very limited and specific circumstances. The government and opposition parties have been battling in recent weeks over an increasing number of meetings being held in camera.

Mobile users can follow the liveblog of Friday's debates here.