The expanding field of digital tools in public affairs and democratic engagement has bought about many opportunities and challenges. One we have followed with great interest is that of e-petitions.
There are many third-party sites — some aligned with particular interests and ideologies, some more general — which provide e-petition services. As many problems as they exist to solve, they present new challenges. For example, ensuring quality signatures over quantity. That is, making sure the people that sign a petition are immediate stakeholders on the issue rather than someone from a foreign country who supports the goals of the petition.
In February we wrote that NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s e-petition motion had passed (with support from eight Conservative backbenchers). Since then, it appears the process to officialize e-petitions at the federal level has been moving along slowly and productively with little media coverage. So, it wasn’t big news that Kennedy Stewart has published Modernizing Petitions in Canada: Proposal for an electronic petitioning system (PDF) for the House of Commons a few weeks ago.
It’s a 10-page document outlining the merits of an e-petition system for our federal democracy, examples of how some governments have implemented their systems (including those of Quebec and the Northwest Territories), and how a Canadian federal e-petition system might work.
The report includes important statements and recognitions including:
- the electronic system should supplement, not replace, the existing paper-based system;
- the system should be hosted and maintained by the Parliament of Canada (this is true of several notable official systems including those in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Scotland, Australia Quebec and Northwest Territories, among others);
- petitioners would be required to register with the system and system-generated emails will be used to validate registration, creation of a petition and petition signatures;
- criteria for the request including clarity, respect, and relevance to the federal jurisdiction;
- e-petitions that reach a certain threshold of support should trigger debased in the House of Commons; and
- perhaps most importantly, “no legislature has ever discontinued an e-petitioning system due to unexpected negative outcomes.”
One thing jumps out as a potential problem with the proposal. Specifically, page nine identifies the need for safeguards to prevent duplicate signatures and those originating from outside of Canada. Specifically, the document identified the need “to prevent numerous signatures from a single IP address.” This could be problematic for households and organizations with multiple qualified participants attempting to sign the same petition through a firewall or router with a single IP address translation for all systems within the network.
You can read more about e-petitions at: