Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I want money for cookies

A public petition, signed by Canadian residents and addressed to the House of Commons, the Government of Canada, a Minister of the Crown or a Member of the House of Commons, is one of the most direct means for people to communicate with Parliament.
Last night, dearest Julie came over for dinner. We started discussing the existence of direct democracy in Canada, as two fashionable urbanites are wont to do. The topic was that of petitions--how a citizen can present a petition to the government. Thing is, anyone can present a petition, so long as it is in a proper format. All you need are 25 signatures.

Yes, there are certain other restrictions. You can't petition for anything if it could be handled by any other level of government or judicial body, but you CAN petition for the expenditure of public funds.

This started me thinking. What kinds of petitions are actually read? Perusing the Hansards suggests that there are tons of people "communicating with Parliament" (four petitions were read last Friday, for instance), though I don't really understand what the governments response to these petitions actually is. The house sets aside an hour and fifteen minutes a week for the reading of petitions-- 15 minutes at 3:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, 15 minutes at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 15 minutes, beginning at 12:00 noon on Fridays. As per our Parliament's procedural services website:

"When presenting a petition, no debate is permitted. A Member may make a brief factual statement, referring to the petition being duly certified, to its source, to the subject matter of the petition and its request, and the number of signatures it carries. Petitions are not to be read in their entirety. The statement is reproduced in Hansard, the official record of the debates, and a record of the petition appears in the Journals for that day."

Ok, so I write a petition for who knows what, I give it to my MP, they read it out to the Parliament and then what? It's just part of the "Routine Proceedings" of Parliament. I'd like to know how many petitions have had any impact. Where would I find out this info? I don't want to think this stuff is totally futile and symbolic.

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