Summary

As the Liberal Government struggles to keep its promise to reform our electoral system, it is worth re-examining this older article by Campbell Clark that outlines some of the different voting systems in use elsewhere.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What are the key features of the types of election systems being considered to replace Canada’s current first-past-the-post system?

New Terminology:

First-past-the-post, electoral, preferential ballot, proportional representation, mixed-member proportional representation, single transferrable vote, mixed-member majoritarian system

Materials Needed:

Globe article

Learning Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Many Canadians have been critical of Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system, mainly because it often results in one political party winning a majority government with considerably less than 50% of the vote. Both the Liberal and the Conservative recent majorities were based on approximately 39% of the popular (overall) vote. British Columbia has already held two referenda on electoral reform and both failed to pass. Nevertheless, the incoming Liberals promised that the 2015 federal election would be the last decided by first-past-the-post.

Although the road to electoral reform seems to have stalled, the issue is still very much alive. The biggest roadblock appears to be the complexity of the options that are in the mix, several of which appear to be quite difficult for ordinary Canadians to understand. In this short lesson, students will work in four groups with each group examining one option which they will explain to the class at the end of the group’s work.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Use these questions to engage students in a brief discussion about Canada’s electoral system, starting with the last election:

  • The Liberals won a majority in the last federal election. About what percent of the overall, or popular, vote did they win? (39.5%)
  • How does this compare to the last Conservative majority? (39.62%)
  • How is it possible that a majority can be elected with less than 50% of the vote? (Majority governments are determined by the number of members of parliament elected for each party and not by popular vote. For example, in a typical riding, there may be four parties seeking the votes of, say, 1,000 voters. If three parties each won 249 votes, and the fourth party won 253, it would win the seat with only 25% of the overall vote)
  • During their campaign, what did the Liberals promise about changes to the electoral system? (They said 2015 would be the last election determined by the first-past-the-post system)
  • Point out that this is the reason for the government’s plan to reform the system, to make it more representative of the overall vote.

Organize students into four groups and provide each group with a copy of the article and the following worksheet. Assign each of the four groups one of four alternative voting systems to examine: Preferential ballot, Party list proportional representation, mixed-member proportional representation, and single transferrable vote.

Worksheet

  • Read the entire article.
  • Describe the first-past-the-post system. Why might the larger political parties prefer to keep this system?
  • Explain what is meant by proportional representation.
  • Explain the system you have been assigned. Include answers to the following in your report, which you will deliver orally at the end of the class:
    • Did you have difficulty trying to understand this system?
    • Are there any countries that already use this system and if so, how do the voters in those countries feel about their system?
    • How might the outcome of the last election have changed if this system had been in place?
    • Would this have favoured or worked against the Liberals in this case? Explain.
  • Having read the whole article, which system does your group prefer?
  • Do you think this kind of change should be determined by a national referendum? Explain.
  • Be prepared to present your work orally to the whole class.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Students report their groups’ findings, discuss these and vote on their preferred system.
Success

Success Criteria:

  • Students are able to describe, in general terms, the different types of options available for electoral reform.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on the latest news about the government’s progress in achieving electoral reform.