A well-established tradition of parliamentary democracy is the right of the public to have access to Parliament by way of petition, which is essentially a request for action delivered in a public manner. “Simply defined, a petition is a formal request to an authority for redress of a grievance” (House of Commons Procedure and Practice, 3rd ed., p. 1173). A petition can be from an individual or a group, and can relate to the passage of a bill, to the Legislative Assembly’s consideration of a public issue, or to an issue of local concern. Since the Legislative Assembly is a representative institution, it considers only those matters submitted to it by its own Members, and petitions are no exception.
This chapter outlines the process for presenting public petitions in the Legislative Assembly. Petitions for private bills are outlined in Chapter 16 (Private Bills).
Petitions are essentially a request for action delivered in a public manner.
Petitioning Parliament for redress or grievance is a centuries-old practice that originated in England; petitioning the Crown was the precursor to petitioning Parliament. The right for the public to petition Parliament was laid down by two resolutions of the House of Commons at Westminster in 1669, as noted in Erskine May:
That it is the inherent right of every commoner in England to prepare and present petitions to the House of Commons in case of grievance, and the House of Commons to receive the same;
That it is an undoubted right and privilege of the Commons to judge and determine, touching the nature and matter of such petitions, how far they are fit and unfit to be received. (25th ed., §24.2, p. 539).
Petitions are a feature of Parliament that British Columbia adopted from Westminster, with its parliamentary system of government, even before joining Confederation as a province. At the time of Confederation, the Rules, Orders and Forms of Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia 362 included a well-established practice regarding the presentation of petitions. The provisions surrounding petitions are substantially the same in the current Standing Orders. While early petitions received by the Legislative Assembly related primarily to personal grievances, petitions now tend to address matters of public policy.
STANDING ORDER 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.
15.2Presenting a Petition
A citizen or group wishing to have a petition presented to the Legislative Assembly will usually do so by contacting the Member who represents them. Members of the Legislative Assembly are not obligated to present a petition, and presenting a petition does not mean that a Member necessarily supports or endorses it; oftentimes, Members are simply the conduit, and do so fulfilling their representative role. Members are not limited to presenting petitions from their constituents only; they may do so on behalf of any British Columbian who approaches a Member to do so.
A Member presenting a petition should ensure that it is drafted using the form set out in Appendix A. The Member must sign the initial page before presentation, and must be satisfied that the petition complies with the Standing Orders and does not contain any impertinent or improper matter.
A Member presenting a petition must do so after the ordinary daily Routine Business (see Standing Order 25) and before the Orders of the Day are called. If presented at this time, leave is not required. Once recognized by the Speaker, the Member may present 363 the petition by stating: “Honourable Speaker, I rise to present a petition to the House from (citizens in my constituency or group name) regarding (subject matter).” The Member may briefly state the text of the grievance or issue outlined in the petition, sometimes referred to as the prayer, or provide a brief summary of the issue that the petitioners are asking the Legislative Assembly to address. The Member may also make reference to the number of individuals who signed the petition. Once the Member has presented the petition, it is provided to the Clerks at the Table.
A petition that meets the requirements set out in Standing Order 73 is entered in the Votes and Proceedings (and, ultimately, the Journals) by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.
Pursuant to Standing Order 73(4), the petition is deemed to have been received once it has been presented in proper form. It is therefore not necessary for a Member to move that the petition be received.
Figure 15-1: Petition Process364
Time and again, Speakers have ruled that, on presentation of a petition to the Legislative Assembly, a Member is limited to briefly outlining the request of the petitioners. It has also been ruled that the individual names of the petitioners may not be read, and that the text of the request may only be read once (see B.C. Journals, April 12, 1988, p. 27; April 13, 1987, pp. 46-7; House of Commons (Canada) Hansard, April 27, 1994, p. 3576; Saskatchewan Hansard, May 17, 1991, pp. 3339, 3341-2).
In British Columbia, there is no debate on the presentation of a petition. A petition that meets the requirements set out in Standing Order 73 is entered in the Votes and Proceedings (and, ultimately, the Journals, the official record of proceedings) by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly. At this point, the petition becomes part of the official records of the Legislative Assembly. A non-conforming petition is returned to the Member who presented it, with the reasons why.
15.3Form of a Petition
A petition addressed to the Legislative Assembly must be substantially in the form prescribed in Appendix A of the Standing Orders. Any individual petitioning the Legislative Assembly must be a resident of British Columbia, and an organization or association must have a registered office in B.C.
Petitions must comply with the following basic rules:
a.The subject matter of the petition must be expressed in respectful language. Petitions drafted using offensive language will not be accepted.
b.Petitions must be written, typewritten or printed, and it is recommended that the paper be standard letter or legal size.
c.If a petition consists of more than one sheet of signatures, the text of the petition must appear at the top of each sheet.
d.Petitions must not request any expenditure, grant or charge on the public revenue, whether payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund or out of moneys to be appropriated by the Legislative Assembly.
e.All signatures must be original and written directly on the face of the petition, and not pasted or transferred to it. Petitions must be free of erasures or insertions.
Petitions contain the following parts:
Petitions must be addressed to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, and cannot be individually addressed to a specific Minister, Member or entity.
Grievance or issue
The petition must outline the reason why it is being presented to the Legislative Assembly, including information on the grievance or issue being addressed. The petition may include a short summary of the issue based on statements of fact.365
Request for action
The petition must include a request for action to address the grievance or issue in question in the petition. This may include a request for the Legislative Assembly to make an amendment to a law or to urge the government to change a certain policy. Petitions must request an action that the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia is able to take. Petitions must therefore not call on the Legislative Assembly to implement or to issue a direct order for government action or to address a matter that is outside of the scope of the Legislative Assembly’s constitutional authority. Petitions must not request any expenditure, grant or charge on the public revenue, whether payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund or out of moneys to be appropriated by the Legislative Assembly.
The petition must contain at least one signature. Signatories must be residents of British Columbia. There is no minimum age requirement for an individual to sign a petition. All signatures must be original and written directly on the face of the petition, and not pasted or transferred to it. Petitions must be free of erasures or insertions. Each person petitioning the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia must print their name and address and sign their name under the text of the petition.
Standing Orders of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
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______.