Petitioning Parliament for free hospital parking and a gender-equal House of Commons

The tradition of petitioning has been around since the 13th century when the representatives of the shires and towns of Britain brought their petitions of grievances with them when Edward I summoned them to a Parliament.

It’s a tradition that quickly established itself in the first legislative assemblies of British North America in the 19th century. The right of Canadians to petition the House of Commons was written into the rules of the House at Confederation although the form and method of submitting those has been changed several times. 

hill squareWhatever changes occurred over the years, though, it always involved a lot of paperwork. MPs would arrive in the House of Commons with an armful, boxful, and wheelbarrow-full of petition forms. 

But for this, the 42nd Parliament, there is another innovation: Letting citizens of the realm do what they did back in Charles I’s day but do it electronically. It’s called e-petitions. Petitions destined for the House of Commons must still be by a Member of Parliament but once the MP has set the process in motion, the House of Commons puts the e-petition up on its web site for a period of weeks and anyone in the realm with an Internet account can log in and sign in the petition.

The most recent petition to make it online is sponsored by Pam Damoff, a Liberal MP from Oakville. It is petition e-613 and it calls on the government to radically the electoral system in a way that would guarantee an equal number of men and women in the 338 House of Commons. The idea, initiated by Myrtle Green of Oakville (one of Damoff’s constituents presumably) is that instead of 338 ridings, we would have 169 ridings. And each of those ridings would then have two MPs, one of which would be female and the the other male. 

It’s important to note that while an MP sponsors a petition, it doesn’t necessarily mean the MP agrees with the petition. All the MP really has done is make it possible for a group of citizens to have their voice heard on a particular issue. 

That point sometimes gets lost and can cause headaches for MPs. For example, earlier this year, one of the most successful petitions was sponsored by B.C. Conservative MP Bob Zimmer. were calling on the government to re-classify the Armalite Rifle-15 to non-restricted status. But when that rifle (or a variant of it) turned out to be the weapon used by a terrorist for a mass shooting at a Florida nightclub last year, found himself in a uncomfortable spotlight and felt compelled to issue a statement in which he explained how he came to have his name on that petition.

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The most popular petition online and active at this writing is petition e-492, sponsored by Robert-Falcon Ouellette, a MP from Winnipeg. So far more than 11,000 people are petitioning Parliament for free parking at hospitals and medical clinics. As health care is clearly a provincial responsibility and parking is usually a municipal responsibility, it’s not clear what, if anything, a federal government might do to respond to these petitioners. Still, if you want to add your name demanding free parking at the clinic, you’ve got until Nov. 24 to do so.

About David Akin