Are E-petitions a Viable Tool for Increasing Citizen Participation in Our Parliamentary Institutions?

Article 1 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

Vol 37 No 4Are E-petitions a Viable Tool for Increasing Citizen Participation in Our Parliamentary Institutions?

Although some experts have suggested legislatures should be cautious about moving to internet voting until challenges with secrecy and security, voter verification, auditability and cost-effectiveness are addressed, the author suggests that electronic petitions may offer an incremental step toward broader engagement with voters online. This article reviews current e-petitions systems, the difference between qualitative and quantitative systems, technical challenges and the potential benefit of encouraging voter participation. The author concludes by listing the best practices to consider when developing an e-petitions system.

Online Political Activity in Canada: The Hype and the Facts

Article 2 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

Online Political Activity in Canada: The Hype and the Facts

How do Canadians engage with the political content provided by governments, political parties and parliamentarians in Canada? Employing data from the 2014 Canadian Online Citizenship Survey, this article explores how Canadians use digital communications to become informed about, discuss and/or participate in politics. The results suggest that less than half of respondents use the Internet to engage in Canadian politics and while governments, politicians and parties have made extensive forays into cyberspace, politics is a minor online activity for Canadians.

Over the last two decades, there has been a revolution in communication technology with the widespread adoption of computer networks and digital technologies. There are very few areas of society, economics and culture that have remained untouched by these technologies. Not surprisingly, digital technologies have also infiltrated the world of Canadian politics. They have changed how representative institutions communicate and respond to citizens. In the mid-1990s, government departments, political parties and parliamentarians across Canada began creating websites in order to inform and, potentially, engage citizens. More recently, social media, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, have become mainstays of political communication in Canada. Indeed, as of October 2014, 80 per cent of federal Members of Parliament were using Twitter. One can also follow tweets of the Senate of Canada and the Library of Parliament. While we know much about the online presences of governments, political parties and parliamentarians in Canada,1 less is known about the extent to which Canadians engage with the political content provided by these different actors.2

The Implications of Social Media for Parliamentary Privilege and Procedure

Article 3 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

The Implications of Social Media for Parliamentary Privilege and Procedure

Does social media present a substantive challenge to parliamentary procedure? And, if so, can existing parliamentary conventions and practice adequately respond to the challenges of the digital age? In this article, the author explores incidents where social media was used to violate or circumvent a standing order or parliamentary convention, or to challenge parliamentary privilege in order to answer these questions. She concludes that while social media is simply another form of communication which can conflict with and challenge parliamentary conventions and rules in the same way as more traditional forms of communication, parliamentarians should be aware that its “instantness” can set it apart and expand their audience.

Is Now the Time for Internet Voting?: BC’s Independent Panel on Internet Voting

Article 4 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

Is Now the Time for Internet Voting?: BC’s Independent Panel on Internet Voting

British Columbia’s Independent Panel on Internet Voting examined research exploring the merits and drawbacks of Internet voting. The author, who chaired of the panel, reports on its terms of reference, key evidence and its conclusions and recommendations. He notes that at the present time, the benefits of Internet voting are limited while the challenges of successfully implementing Internet voting are many and complex. The panel has recommended against universal Internet voting at the present time and suggested that if it is implemented it should be limited to people with specific accessibility challenges, co-ordinated province-wide, employ independent technical experts and be measured against the key principles established by the committee.

The National Assembly of Québec in the Digital Era

Article 5 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

The National Assembly of Québec in the Digital Era

Since the launch of its website in 1995, the National Assembly of Québec has been a leader in using online technology to reach out to citizens. In this article, the authors decribe efforts to launch and accept online petitions, online comments and citizen consultation of proposed legislation, and the more recent growth of social media networking. They conclude by noting the special attention paid towards responsible social media use and how this new technology can bring about effective communication between the people and their government.

To better inform citizens and increase their participation in the workings of their Parliament, the National Assembly of Québec launched its website in 1995. In 2010, the site was overhauled to enable Quebecers to participate more directly in the democratic process; in 2012 we went one step further when we chose to be present on social media. For years now, the National Assembly’s use of technology has facilitated both parliamentary business and citizen involvement through online petitions, comments and consultations, not to mention our official Facebook page and Twitter account.

Open Data’s Potential for Political History

Article 6 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

Open Data’s Potential for Political History

The recent trend of “open government” initiatives has provided an exciting new source of material for digital humanities researchers. Large datasets allow these scholars to engage in “distant reading” exercises to provide context in ways previously not possible. In this article, the author provides examples of the tools researchers can use to expand their understanding of the country’s political history and of the changing nature of parliamentary institutions and debates. He concludes with suggestions for ways to gain the maximum benefit from these data releases.

What could we learn if we read every word of the federal Hansard and explored how the frequency of various ‘topics’ rose and fell over time? Or, what types of trends might we see if we were able to know the occupation of every candidate for office since 1867? What kind of heretofore unknown value can be discovered in these sorts of extremely large datasets? The answers to all of these questions are promising.

CPA Activities: The Canadian Scene Vol 37 No 4

Article 7 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

CPA Activities: The Canadian Scene

New Speaker in New Brunswick

Chris Collins, Liberal MLA for Moncton Centre, was elected Speaker of the New Brunswick Legislature on October 24. Collins replaces retiring Progressive Conservative MLA Dale Graham. Prior to coming to the Assembly via a 2007 by-election, Collins had been a member of Moncton city council. He was re-elected to the Legislature in 2010, when he served as the opposition critic for Education, Post-Secondary Education Training and Labour, Environment, Energy, and Justice. Outside of politics, Collins has been an advocate for families with sick children. In 2013, Collins, whose son Sean passed away from cancer at the age of 13 in 2007, cycled across Canada raising $100,000 for children with cancer.

Parliamentary Bookshelf Vol 37 No 4

Article 8 / 9 , Vol 37 No 4 (Winter)

Parliamentary Bookshelf

Discovering Confederation: A Canadian’s Story by Janet Ajzenstat, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal & Kingston, 158p.

Janet Ajzenstat tells us that her mentor at the University of Toronto, Allen Bloom, once advised her to take up a great book and read it sympathetically – make the best case you can for your author, he exhorted. It is easy to read this book – a welcome intellectual biography by Canada’s leading authority of its political origins – sympathetically. Indeed, there is much to admire in this glimpse at a political philosopher who came to appreciate the 1867 Canadian constitution and its version of parliamentary democracy.