Speech in the House - Motion No. 428 - Electronic Petitions

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak in the strongest terms possible in support of Motion No. 428, moved by my colleague, the member forBurnaby—Douglas.

He has been a leader in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in trying to come up with measures to improve Canadian democracy and to renew it. This is but one of the many examples that one could cite, and I salute the member for his concern for revitalizing Canadian democracy.

This measure, which seems such a small step, is definitely a step in that direction. Canadian democracy needs renewal. I say that because of the shocking statistic that just 39% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 voted in the last federal election, yet when we look at people in that age demographic, we see how plugged in they are. They are truly the digital generation.

However, this tool that would revitalize democracy for that generation may not be passed, if I understand what my friends across the way are saying.

What does this motion do? It simply asks for the committee on procedure and House affairs to be given the opportunity to examine this proposal and report back in no more than 12 months.

It is a measure that has been looked at elsewhere in parliaments over time, and it has been used, as the member has stated and others have stated, in other democracies around the world. It is part of American democracy at many state levels, and of course at the White House, as we were told. Quebec has had it as a feature. The United Kingdom has had it as a feature.

My friend the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley spoke about the potential cost of such a measure. Of course that ought to be considered and I am sure it will be considered, but what is the value against that cost of a more engaged population, a population particularly of younger Canadians, who seem so alienated, sadly, from our democracy? That, I say, is a value that we cannot put a price on. This is an important tool in that direction.

The same member spoke about the Accountability Act in glowing terms. Well, this is about accountability. I know about it from the experience of working many years ago with the justice and solicitor general committee. The current Minister of Justice was a backbencher serving on that committee, and I was a consultant who came up with 100 recommendations to improve the accountability measure that was called the Access to Information and Privacy Act.

Those recommendations have never seen the light of day, despite the fact that they were the subject of unanimous approval. It was an effort toward greater transparency that has been lost. The Accountability Act, to quote Macbeth, is “...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” unless measures of this sort are taken in conjunction with it to put meat on the bones.

I know that other members of the Conservative backbench support initiatives of this sort. They are strongly in favour of moving us toward a more accountable and transparent democracy, and I salute the member for Edmonton—St. Albert as one of those, although I understand he is no longer a member of the Conservative caucus, perhaps because he still believes in the accountability of which the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valleyspoke.

I also salute the member for Burnaby—Douglas for going to the trouble of spending the money to get a survey to find out whether Canadians care about this issue. I am pleased that over 81% support or strongly support an initiative of this sort. That, it seems to me, is telling.

All we are saying is to give it to the committee so that the committee can have a look at it and come back to Parliament with ways to make it work.

My friend talked about frivolous petitions like Star Wars that other jurisdictions have encountered. I am confident that parliamentarians would be able to figure it out and make it work. We are practical, pragmatic people. Canadians would make this work because we want it to work and because we need to find ways to engage our youth.

We talk about marginalized groups that are strongly in support of this measure, and there are many such groups. That is critically important, but I am focusing my attention on the need to engage youth, because I am very concerned about the functioning of our democracy going forward. This is the digital generation, as I say, and they need to have tools of this sort to make it work.

I am so pleased that my friend pointed out the support of people like Preston Manning and Ed Broadbent. When parliamentarians from across the spectrum have both spoken so passionately in favour of this measure—from both sides of the aisle, so to speak, or from both sides of the political spectrum—it is indicative and demonstrative of the support that initiatives of this sort are getting and will get from Canadians of all political stripes.

I have worked with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as part of the Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, on which I had the honour to serve, and it is strongly in support of this measure because it believes, as the Conservatives say they believe, in accountability.

I also see that Leadnow, which has done so much to promote environmental responsibility in British Columbia and across Canada, has also said very clearly that it fully supports bringing electronic petitions to Parliament, as “it will help strengthen the voice of Canadians and enable them to reach decision-makers more effectively”.

I particularly salute Leadnow because it has been so effective in engaging the youth of whom I have spoken before.

In conclusion, I urge all members of Parliament to examine this measure carefully and fairly. It is only an effort to get it to the committee to do the job required. It already has built-in mechanisms, so we would not have frivolous petitions as a consequence. It would help engage the youth of Canada and, as I say, restore and renew democracy, particularly for those young Canadians who have lost hope in our system.