What is a Plebiscite?

A plebiscite is a direct vote by the public on an important question. Voters answer the question on a secret ballot, just like in an election.

Who Can Decide to Have a Plebiscite?

The following agencies and individuals can decide to have a plebiscite:

  • The Legislative Assembly;
  • Cabinet;
  • A Minister; and,
  • A municipal council or another body with an agreement with Elections Nunavut to conduct a plebiscite on its behalf.

Each agency and individual can request a plebiscite only on issues for which they are responsible. For example, a municipal council can ask for a plebiscite only on a municipal issue. A Minister can ask for a plebiscite only on the issues for which their department is responsible.

Public Petitions

The public can ask for a plebiscite on an issue. To do this, they must submit a petition to the agency individual responsible for the issue. The petition must be signed by at least 20% of the voters who would be voting in the plebiscite.

A public petition for a plebiscite does not guarantee there will be one. But, the agency or individual who is responsible for the issue can use the petition to justify having one.

Who Pays for a Plebiscite?

The agency or individual that decides to have a plebiscite has to pay for it. They must reimburse Elections Nunavut for all the expenses of the plebiscite.

Other Rules from the Plebiscites Act

  • The plebiscite question must be clear, concise, and neutral. The agency or person that requests a plebiscite writes the plebiscite question. But, if the Chief Electoral Officer thinks the question is not clear, concise, and neutral, they can tell the agency or person to change it.
  • The plebiscite question cannot be asked again for five years. There must be a five-year period before asking the same question to the same voter group again.
  • Some plebiscites are binding. When a plebiscite is binding, the results of the vote must be followed. If a plebiscite is binding, this will be stated in the writ (official announcement of the plebiscite). A plebiscite on a by-law under the Cities, Towns and Villages Act or the Hamlets Act is always binding

The Plebiscites Act (Nunavut)

All the rules for plebiscites in Nunavut are set out in the Plebiscites Act (except for local option liquor plebiscites, which are under the Local Authorities Election Act).

The Plebiscites Act (Nunavut) came into force in January 2014. It established new rules to ensure that:

  • Plebiscites are designed to meet unique needs in Nunavut based on different demographic, cultural, and political realities;
  • Plebiscite questions are clear, concise, and neutral; and,
  • The rules for plebiscites match the rules for elections set out in the Nunavut Elections Act.

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