Direct Democracy: Plebiscites and Referendums


One of the most powerful forms of rule is direct democracy. It gives voters the power to decide what the law should be. It can change the direction of a town, a city, a province, or a country in a single vote.

Best illustrating the power of direct democracy is the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum on whether to stay in or leave the European Union. The surprise result—voters narrowly decided to leave the EU—shook the ruling class across Europe. Agree or disagree with the result, it reminded everyone that in a democracy, power ultimately resides with the majority.

For Saskatchewan voters in particular, direct democracy is not an abstract concept. In fact, citizens are given direct democratic powers in Saskatchewan law. We can force a binding referendum at the municipal level, and a non-binding plebiscite at the provincial level.

Knowing that we have these powers, how can we help ensure that direct democracy is used responsibly?

Direct Democracy: Plebiscites and Referendums can help answer this question. Written for Social Studies 30 and Law 30, this resource begins by looking at the origins of direct democracy in ancient Greece, then moves students through Saskatchewan’s history with and current legislation governing direct democracy. It closes by asking students to critically consider the merits and drawbacks of direct democratic rule. Throughout these lessons, step-by-step procedures, student handouts, and case studies will help students think of ways to make better democratic decisions.

Of course, no learning resource is perfect. Your feedback and suggestions on this or any other PLEA publication is welcomed. Drop us a line!

Direct Democracy: Plebiscites and Referendums

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