How to petition Canadian legislatures

A fair number of people regularly end up on this blog looking for information about petitioning Parliament. Here is an overview of the proper way to petition the House of Commons, as well as the provincial and territorial legislatures.

Number of Signatures

Before looking at the various petition requirements,  I want to address one issue that regularly turns up on the keyword search statistics on this blog. Many people are looking for information about “how many signatures are required for a petition” in Canada. In general, there is no minimum number of signatures needed to validate a petition. A petition could be submitted with only one signature on it. The Parliament of Canada does require that a paper petition have at least 25 signatures for it to be certified and an e-petition will require 500 signatures to be certified, meaning that it can be presented in the House. However, there isn’t a jurisdiction anywhere in Canada that gives some petitions special treatment based on the number of signatures they receive.

In some other jurisdictions, if a petition reaches a certain threshold of signatures, it might be treated differently than a petition which receives fewer signatures. For example, in the United Kingdom, a petition which receives 10,000 or more signatures will receive a response from the applicable Ministry. A petition which receives over 100,000 signatures will be forwarded to the Backbench Business Committee for possible consideration as a topic for a debate either in the House or in Westminster Hall (note, however, that it is not guaranteed to be debated, and any MP can propose a debate on any petition, no matter how many signatures it has received).

Nothing like this exists anywhere in Canada. All petitions are treated the same, regardless of now many signatures they receive, as long as they meet the requirements to be certified and presented to the House.

The House of Commons

The House of Commons now hosts an e-petitions platform on its website. For an e-petition to be posted to the website for signing, the main petitioner will have to find five supporters who agree to sign the petition. They will also have to find an MP who agrees to sponsor the e-petition. Only once those five individuals have confirmed their support for the petition, and an MP has agreed to sponsor it in the House, will the petition appear online (assuming everything else about it is in order). An e-petition will remain open for signatures for 120 days. To receive final certification and be presented in the House of Commons, an e-petition must receive a minimum of 500 valid signatures during this period. If an e-petition has not garnered the minimum number of valid signatures by then, it will proceed no further, but will remain visible online. A general breakdown of signatures by province or territory appears on the e-petitions website along with each petition. An e-petition that is presented in the House of Commons will receive a response from the Government. That response will also be posted online.

Paper petitions are still accepted, of course. The Canadian House of Commons has a rather extensive Practical Guide to petitions. Citizens wishing to petition parliament the old-fashioned way must ensure that their petitions meets the criteria outlined in the guide, and then find an MP willing to present their petition in the House. The guide is very specific, for example:

  • The text of a petition must be handwritten, typed, printed or photocopied on sheets of paper of usual size, i.e. measuring 21.5 cm x 28 cm (8 1/2 x 11 inches) or 21.5 cm x 35.5 cm (8 1/2 x 14 inches). A petition submitted on paper of irregular size, or on any other material, is not acceptable.
  • The text of a petition must not be altered either by erasing or crossing out words or by adding words or commentary. Any alteration will make the petition unacceptable.
  • A petition must be free of any other matter attached or appended to or written or printed on the petition, whether in the form of additional documents, maps, pictures, logos, news articles, explanatory or supporting statements, or requests for support. A petition printed on the reverse of a document (for example a newsletter or a Member’s Householder or Ten Percenter) is not acceptable.
  • If a petition is composed of more than one sheet of signatures and addresses, the subject-matter of the petition must be indicated on every sheet.
  • The petition must receive at least 25 signatures in order to be certified for presentation to the House. The signatures of any MPs will not count towards the 25  required signatures.
  • Signatures must not be photocopied.

Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly

Petitions to the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly must also be of the traditional paper variety, as explained on the Assembly’s website. The Assembly also provides a useful template for anyone wishing to petition the Assembly.

Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island

The only information regarding petitions on the website of the Legislative Assembly of PEI is in the Rules of the Assembly (Standing Orders), specifically Rule 78. The information provided is mostly for the benefit of the MLAs who will be presenting the petitions to the Assembly. There is no guidance regarding the form or content of petitions for citizens wishing to submit a petition, other than 78(3) which specifies that no petition which “prays for any expenditure, grant or charge” will be accepted.

Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly

The Nova Scotia Legislative Assembly provides very clear, concise information on how to petition the Assembly on its website:

The request must ask the House of Assembly or government to do something that is within its constitutional powers.  They can be either written or printed (not electronic) and signed by as few as one person. If there are three or more signatures, however, they must be on the first page with the prayer.  The prayer should appear at the top of every page of a petition.  There is no standard format. All petitions must bear original signatures.  Photocopies of petitions or print-outs of Internet petitions are not acceptable.  Similarly, boxes or bundles of printed e-mails are not accepted.  The MLA presenting the petition is responsible for ensuring that its content is appropriate. He or she must also endorse the petition being presented to show which MLA tabled it, even if he or she does not agree with it.

Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick

The Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick also provides clear instructions on how to petition the Assembly on its website, including a template petitioners can use to ensure their petition has proper form.

Quebec National Assembly

The Quebec National Assembly was the first legislature in Canada to accept both paper and electronic petitions. Parliamentary reforms introduced in 2009 introduced e-petitions, which must be initiated and signed via the National Assembly’s internet site.

The above link provides detailed information on initiating both traditional paper and electronic petitions.

Of note, the parliamentary reforms which brought in e-petitions also initiated a change to the Standing Orders which now require the government to respond to any petition. Previously, there was no obligation on the part of Government to provide any sort of response to petitions tabled in the National Assembly.

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario does not accept e-petitions. It does provide detailed information on how to petition the Assembly on the Assembly’s website, including information on what happens after the petition is presented in the House. There is also a template provided to ensure petitions have the correct form.

Legislative Assembly of Manitoba

The Legislative Assembly of Manitoba provides citizens with detailed information on the petition process on its website in the form of three PDFs: General Guidelines, Model Petition and a Sample Petition.

Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan

The Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan has a very detailed PDF guide to petitions. Where, exactly, this guide is located on its website is unclear. The only way I was able to find the document was by searching for “petitions” in the site seach box. There doesn’t seem to be a very obvious direct link to the guide in any of the navigation menus.

Legislative Assembly of Alberta

The Legislative Assembly of Alberta provides a 4-page PDF guide to petitions; however, it is not immediately obvious how to find it on the Assembly website. For the record, it’s listed in the Quick Access drop down menu on the Assembly’s homepage.

British Columbia Legislative Assembly

The only information concerning petitioning the British Columbia Legislative Assembly was found in the Standing Orders, which would make it rather difficult for most people to find the information they need. Standing Order 73(1) reads:

73. (1) A petition substantially in the form prescribed by Appendix A may be presented by a Member for the redress of an alleged public grievance.

(2) The petition must contain a clear, concise, accurate and temperate statement of the facts for which the intervention of the House is requested and the signature of all the petitioners.

(3) No petition can be received which requests any expenditure, grant or charge on the public revenue, whether payable out of the consolidated revenue fund or out of moneys to be provided by the House.

(4) A petition, on being presented and meeting the requirements of this Standing Order, is deemed to have been received, and copies shall be made available to a Member on request. Tabling of the petition shall be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

(5) Members presenting petitions shall be answerable that they do not contain impertinent or improper matter.

Appendix A referred to above outlines the form a petition must take:

APPENDIX A – FORM OF PETITION

(For Private Bill or Other Purposes)

To the Honourable the Legislative Assembly of the Province of British Columbia, in Legislature Assembled:

The petition of the undersigned, __________ , of the __________, states that: [here state the object of the petition, briefly setting forth the reasons therefor].

Your petitioners respectfully request that the Honourable House [take such action as may be deemed appropriate.]

Dated __________ day of __________, 20 __.

(Signatures)

Yukon Legislative Assembly

The Yukon Legislative Assembly provides a 2-page PDF info sheet on petitions on the Assembly’s website.

Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories

After testing an ePetitions pilot project in 2010-11, the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories now has an online petitions option available on its website, becoming only the second legislature in the country to accept ePetitions. Complete details are available here, and detailed petition guidance is provided here. Traditional paper petitions are also still accepted.

Nunavut Legislative Assembly

There doesn’t appear to be any information at all concerning petitions on the Nunavut Assembly website. Entering “petitions” in the site search box yielded no results. However, one can find some information about petitions in the Assembly’s Standing Orders, similar to PEI and the NWT.

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