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By: Dana Wagner on
Elizabeth May, Green Party leader and MP for Saanich — Gulf Islands, on Twitter on December 4, 2014
Elizabeth May said MPs have an “obligation” to present petitions. The House rule book says they do not.FactsCan Score: False
When a Canadian MP asks the government to review a conspiracy theory, there has to be a back story.
Elizabeth May made the request on December 3, 2014, in the House of Commons, when she called on the government “To conduct a parliamentary review into the events that occurred in the United States on September 11.” May, leader of the Green Party, later explained she was presenting a petition from Canadians representing what’s known as the ‘Truther’ movement. Truthers allege the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the United States government.
May afterwards said she did not agree with the petition’s contents, begging the question of why she read it in the House. Her answer, CTV reported, was that “It is an obligation of an MP to present every petition submitted to them.”
Responding to critics on Twitter, May also said “I gave a minimal description. Did not speak at any length or express support. As I understand the rules, I had to.”
In a legal or procedural sense, that is not true.
The petition is a form of direct communication between members of the public and their representatives, and there are pages of regulations on the correct way for petitions to be created and managed – they are serious documents because if presented in the House, the government must respond within 45 days. The general rule book for MPs also covers what a member is supposed to do upon receiving a petition. The House of Commons Procedure and Practice (section 22 on Public Petitions) is explicit that there is no requirement on MPs to present petitions.
It states: “Members are not bound to present petitions and cannot be compelled to do so; nevertheless, it is evident that many Members consider it a duty to present to the House petitions brought forward by citizens.”
That second part brings us to the possibility that May simply meant she considers it a personal (moral, ethical, etc.) duty to present public petitions.
This is, in fact, a Green Party position. The Greens released a statement after May read the Truther petition to clarify its stance, calling it “The duty of all parliamentarians to act as a voice for all Canadians, including those they disagree with … The Green Party echoes Ms. May’s sentiments that it does not agree with the petition, but believes that no citizen should be denied the right to make their voice heard in Parliament.”
Aha. Opinion, not fact. May could very well have meant to say that it is a moral obligation of MPs to present every petition submitted to them. However, her comment on Twitter suggests there is a procedural obligation. Which there is not.