A couple of online petitions, one seeking to remove a Chilliwack school trustee from office and one seeking to remove Prime Minister from office, are deeply disturbing.

The online petition from Chilliwack is asking for the resignation or removal of trustee Barry Neufeld “for his continued use of offensive language and complete disregard for decency in our community.”

The petition was started after Neufeld used a slur to describe a newspaper and journalists in the community. Neufeld has also come under fire for other comments which are considered offensive.

At present, more than 11,000 people have signed the petition. This is more than one-tenth of the more than 101,000 people who live in Chilliwack’s metropolitan area.

The online petition against Trudeau is demanding that he step down as prime minister and as the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

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“We, the undersigned citizens of Canada have lost confidence in him as Canada’s Prime Minister and we feel he no longer serves the best interests of Canadians,” the petition states.

This is not the first time a petition has circulated with the goal of ousting Trudeau.

The latest petition was started in response to the federal government’s measures to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 60,000 people have signed this petition.

While this number may seem impressive, it represents less than one-sixth of one per cent of Canada’s population. It’s hardly a resounding cry for Trudeau to step down.

While the issues addressed in the two petitions are different, they both show the same underlying problem, namely a disregard for the governing process we have in Canada.

Our democracy, at the local, regional, provincial and national levels, is not decision-making by online petitions. Instead, representatives are elected to consider and discuss issues using a democratic process.

Whether one likes or dislikes a candidate, an elected official at any level, a party leader or a party’s platforms is a matter of personal opinion.

Voters are able to cast ballots in elections, and both Neufeld and Trudeau were elected by voters in their constituencies.

At the federal level, the Liberals were able to win more seats than any other party, putting them into the role of the governing party and putting Trudeau into the role of prime minister.

There are ways a local government is able to impose discipline on a member whose speech or behaviour is considered inappropriate, and there are ways for the public to speak out if an elected official at any level is speaking or behaving in a way that is considered offensive.

These do not include online petitions, such as the ones targeting Neufeld or Trudeau. Such petitions hold no power and governments are not bound to follow their directives.

Our democracy has some important procedures and structures in place, and they must be respected if the democracy is to work.

These structures do not include online petitions.

If one is unhappy with the direction of a governing body, or if one considers an elected official’s behaviour to be unacceptable, there are ways to speak out and voice these concerns.

At the provincial level, British Columbia has a recall process which has been in place since 1995. There are parameters with this process in order to ensure it is not being abused. Over the years, several recall attempts have been started using this process.

But an online petition is not one of these ways.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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COLUMN: Petitions show loss of faith in democratic process
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