Fighting for Fairness: Teaching Proportional Representation

Cindy Spackman

on the issue. A vote was held in 1970. The choices on the ballot were Lakehead, The Lakehead or Thunder Bay. Thunder Bay won by a narrow margin, the majority of citizens clearly preferring a variant of Lakehead and splitting their vote between the two choices that included that name. Was that a fair vote?

Three-way races in a FPTP voting system often show similar results. Most people who voted in Canada’s last federal election did not want the Conservatives to come into power, but because they could not agree on which party they did want, the Conservatives ended up winning. In a democracy, the electoral system is supposed to translate individual votes into political power. How well has that worked in Canada?

The history curriculum for grades 7 and 8 students lends itself to an exploration of our voting system and the current proposed changes to it. Many of the conflicts in our fledgling nation, such as the rebellions of 1837-38 in Upper and Lower Canada, resulted directly from perceived unfairness in government.

The School Dance
To illustrate the FPTP system, a simple exercise helps students understand how our voting system works right now. After they had considered some of the historical issues surrounding our political system through their history unit, I told my grade 7 class that they were going to develop their explanatory writing skills. By exploring Canada’s current voting system and a proposed change to it, we would be able to explain to others how elections work right now, why some people think our electoral system is unfair, and what change has been suggested. I began by asking the class to vote on whose music to play at a school dance.

This was the result:
Justin Bieber:  5 votes
LMFAO: 10 votes
K’naan: 3 votes
Taylor Swift: 11 votes

The discussion that followed went like this:

Me: “Who has the most votes?”

“Taylor Swift.”

Me: “Did the majority of you vote for Taylor Swift?”

Some said yes, others said no. I asked one of the naysayers to explain his reasoning.

“There are 29 of us, and only 11 voted for Taylor Swift, so no.”

Me: “So, you’re saying that the majority of the class voted for someone else, not Taylor Swift.” Another student jumped in. “Right. She got the most of any one kind of vote, but most people wanted someone else.”

Me: “The one with the most votes was Taylor Swift. She got 11 votes. But the majority of you didn’t vote for her. Eighteen of you voted for someone else. So if we play only Taylor Swift’s music, the majority of you will be unhappy with the choice, even though she got the most votes.”

With the school dance question, students begin to perceive the problems


Student volunteer sitting next to vote submission box

June 2, 1997, was a memorable day for me.

etfo staff or volunteers sorting papers in office

ETFO's planning for the 2011 provincial election began last year. Our goals were to elect an “education-friendly” government and raise the profile of education issues.