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House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

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As outsiders are not permitted to address the House directly, petitions must be presented by Members. Therefore, groups and individuals with petitions for the House must enlist the aid of Members to have their petitions certified and presented. Members are not bound to present petitions and cannot be compelled to do so;[63] nevertheless, it is evident that many Members consider it a duty to present to the House petitions brought forward by citizens.[64] The Member, whose role it is to make the presentation on behalf of the petitioners, is not required to be in agreement with the content of any petition he or she may choose to present, and no such inference is to be drawn.[65]

Once they have been certified by the Clerk of Petitions, petitions are ready for presentation to the House and are returned to the Members who submitted them. A certified petition is not to be altered or tampered with in any way; nor is the certificate to be removed. No rule or practice specifies a time period during which a petition must be presented following its certification; nor must a petition necessarily be presented by the Member who had it certified.[66] The Speaker has observed that various reasons might prevent a Member from presenting a certified petition expeditiously, but has also found merit in the view that petitions ought to be presented promptly after certification so that petitioners may have confidence that petitions brought to the House are answered as quickly as possible.[67]

Petitions are presented by Members, including Ministers.[68] The Speaker traditionally does not present petitions, but instead asks the assistance of another Member to do so. This practice originated in the British House of Commons of the late eighteenth century, a time when petitions were routinely debated. Presenting petitions would have led to the Speaker participating in the proceedings of the House, which would have been at odds with the essential neutrality of the Chair.[69] In choosing to present a petition, a Member must be satisfied of its fitness and regularity, for it is a long‑standing rule of the House that the Member is answerable for any improprieties and impertinences therein.[70] In addition, the Member presenting a petition must endorse it (i.e., sign the back of the petition, or the back of the first page).[71]

Certified petitions may be presented in two ways: orally during Routine Proceedings[72] or by filing them with the Clerk of the House during any sitting of the House.[73] In practice, the majority of petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings.[74]

*   Presentation During Routine Proceedings

Certified petitions are presented daily during Routine Proceedings, under the rubric “Presenting Petitions”. A maximum of 15 minutes is provided for the presentation of petitions.[75] To be recognized, Members must be in their assigned places.[76] Members with more than one petition to present on a given day are advised to present them all when given the floor, as individual Members are recognized by the Chair only once during “Presenting Petitions”.[77] The Chair has on occasion limited the number of petitions presented at one time by a single Member to five.[78] This allows more Members to be recognized within the 15‑minute time limitation.

No debate is permitted during the presentation of petitions.[79] Any comment on the merits of a petition—even a Member’s personal agreement or disagreement with the petitioners—has been deemed to constitute a form of debate and is therefore out of order.[80] Members are permitted a brief factual statement, in the course of which they may allude to the petition being duly certified, to its source, to the subject matter of the petition and its prayer, and the number of signatures it carries.[81] In any event, petitions are not to be read in their entirety and Members presenting them should avoid straying into debate or argument.[82] In view of the limited time available and of the number of Members with petitions to present on any given day, the Chair is generally quick to intervene when Members appear to be making speeches, indulging in debate, or launching on the lengthy reading of the full text of a petition.

*   Presentation by Filing with the Clerk of the House

Since 1910, Members have had the option of presenting petitions at any time during a sitting of the House, by filing them with the Clerk of the House.[83] The Member may approach the Table, or may hand the certified and endorsed (with a signature on the back of the petition or on the back of the first page) petition to a page, with instructions to deliver it to the Table where it is received by the Clerk or by a Table Officer on behalf of the Clerk.

*   Following Presentation

When petitions are presented during Routine Proceedings, the Members’ remarks are recorded, transcribed and published in the Debates for that day. An entry is also made in the Journals, the official record of House proceedings. The petitions are listed as having been certified correct and presented pursuant to the Standing Orders. Petitions filed with the Clerk are not mentioned in the Debates, but they are listed in the Journals. Certified petitions once presented to the House (by either method) are forwarded to the Privy Council Office, which is responsible for their reception and processing. The petitions ultimately end up in the Library and Archives Canada collection.

Petitions have been presented which were later found to be uncertified; in such cases, while the Debates contain the transcription of the Members’ remarks, the petitions in question are not recorded in the Journals.[84] They are examined by the Clerk of Petitions; if in order, they are certified and then filed with the Clerk on the Member’s behalf; only then is the presentation noted in the Journals. If the petitions cannot be certified, they are returned to the Members. On one occasion, a Member who attempted to present an uncertified petition was called to order and admonished by the Chair.[85]

*   Copies of Petitions

Anyone who wishes to read or consult a petition after it has been presented may do so by making arrangements with one’s Member of Parliament. The Privy Council Office will produce a photocopy of a petition, including the signatures, for the Member who presented the same to the House of Commons, while it will produce a photocopy of a petition, excluding the signatures, for any other Member.

[63] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 232.

[64] See, for example, the general discussion on petitions on February 13, 1990 (Debates, pp. 8233‑42). In presenting petitions, Members occasionally make reference to their “duty” in this regard (Debates, December 1, 1981, p. 13549; October 20, 1989, p. 4953; March 14, 1994, p. 2226).

[65] Debates, November 25, 1986, pp. 1501, 1505; February 25, 1994, pp. 1863‑4.

[66] See Debates, October 21, 1997, p. 878; June 12, 2003, pp. 7222-3 (petitions presented on behalf of a Member who had resigned).

[67] Debates, May 28, 1987, pp. 6500‑1; September 22, 1987, p. 9172; March 8, 1988, p. 13490.

[68] See, for example, Debates, December 12, 1991, p. 6176; Journals, March 24, 2005, p. 570; October 18, 2005, p. 1170; June 5, 2007, p. 1477; April 10, 2008, p. 693.

[69] Bourinot, 4th ed., p. 231. See also Debates, April 23, 1879, pp. 1453‑4; March 23, 1987, pp. 4433‑4. Other Presiding Officers have presented petitions. See, for example, Journals, October 26, 1994, p. 829 (Bob Kilger, Assistant Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole); June 19, 1995, p. 1784 (Shirley Maheu, Deputy Chairman of Committees of the Whole); February 9, 2005, p. 408 (Chuck Strahl, Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole).

[70] Standing Order 36(3). This has been part of the written rules since Confederation.

[71] Standing Order 36(4).

[72] Standing Order 36(6).

[73] Standing Order 36(5).

[74] Statistics compiled by the Clerk of Petitions indicate that 1,684 of 1,804 petitions presented in the First Session of the Thirty‑Ninth Parliament (2006-07) were presented orally during Routine Proceedings.

[75] Standing Order 36(6). Rarely is the entire 15 minutes taken up. See, for example, Debates, March 13, 1995, pp.10393‑6; December 12, 2002, p. 2599.

[76] Standing Order 36(6).

[77] Debates, October 28, 1983, p. 28457; June 11, 1985, p. 5649; November 7, 1986, pp. 1190‑1. Exceptionally, the Speaker recognized Alexa McDonough (Halifax) twice during Routine Proceedings on June 21, 2005 (Debates, pp. 7509-10), and Meili Faille (Vaudreuil–Soulanges) twice during Routine Proceedings on June 6, 2007 (Debates, pp. 10215‑6).

[78] Debates, November 51999, p. 1192.

[79] Standing Order 36(7).

[80] Debates, April 27, 1994, p. 3576; June 22, 1995, p. 14413; November 4, 1996, pp. 6068‑9; March 22, 2000, p. 5008; October 25, 2002, p. 921; June 16, 2006, p. 2503. Members had been known to inform the House of their personal views as they presented petitions. See, for example, Debates, June 9, 1947, p. 3912; March 29, 1985, p. 3510; April 26, 1994, p. 3483; February 4, 2004, p. 113. In the latter case, the Deputy Speaker ruled that he would not tolerate Members making comments about their own petitions, or about their colleagues’ petitions.

[81] Debates, April 26, 1989, p. 975.

[82] See, for example, Debates, April 6, 1982, p. 16198; March 14, 1990, p. 9284; September 16, 1991, p. 2173; December 8, 1992, pp. 14806‑7; May 7, 1993, pp. 19111‑2; September 28, 1998, p. 8474; May 13, 2004, p. 3117.

[83] Standing Order 36(5).

[84] On May 22, 1992, two Members presented petitions which were not recorded in that day’s Journals (Journals, p. 1546, Debates, pp. 11088‑9).

[85] Debates, May 15, 1992, p. 10794.

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