Using point form, Sean Fine lists key changes the Conservatives made to the justice system and, for each, suggests what the Liberals might do, could do and/or the potential problems around these decisions.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Question to Explore:

  • How might the new Liberal government change the previous government’s changes to the justice system?

New Terminology:

Fraught, partisan, proscribing, impecunious

Materials Needed:

Globe article

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

In spite of declining national crime rates, the Conservatives rode to power—and stayed in power for almost 10 years—on two principal platform issues: Law and order and the economy. Of the two, the former was by far the most contentious, as large swathes of legal and constitutional professionals disagreed with the Harper Government’s hard-line approach to justice. Indeed, in many cases the government’s legislation was struck down by federal and Supreme Court rulings. Under the Conservative regime, sentencing became harsher, prisons more crowded, parole more difficult to obtain and the “war on drugs” was stepped up in spite of overwhelming research that showed the approach did not work.

The Liberals took power promising to undo much of what the Harper regime had changed. Students can benefit from a lesson in which they examine and discuss 11 key areas of the justice system to better understand the status quo, changes planned by the Liberals, and others that remain to be addressed.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Students will work on groups on assigned portions of the attached article to determine on each justice issue: 1) The status quo; 2) Proposed Liberal changes; 3) Possible problems that complicate changes; and 4) What they believe should be done in each case, if anything.

Start by asking students what they know about Liberal plans to reform the justice system after almost 10 years of the Conservative “law and order” agenda. They may well be aware of the promise to legalize marijuana, for example. Using the article, list a few more to see if they had become familiar with the issues.

Organize your students into four groups and assign an equal number of items from the list to each group. For example:  If you count the subset of issues (under #7 in the article) as individual issues, the entire list would then make up 16 issues, or four per group.  Give students the following assignment:


Choose a group leader and a note-taker. Read the four items you need to address carefully. Then, for each one, set down a condensed version of each of the following:

The status quo:

  • Describe here what the situation now is. For example, for marijuana legalization, write down how the laws now apply regarding possession, selling and driving under the influence of, marijuana.

Promised changes, if any:

  • Note what the Liberals plan to do regarding this issue.

Possible problems:

  • Describe some problems that might be associated with planned legislation. For example, if marijuana were legal, how would drivers be tested to see if they are under the influence? What about growing marijuana, etc.?

Your view:

  • Discuss the issue with your group to see what the consensus is regarding the issue. Do you favour the status quo or changes to the status quo? If so, why?

When you have finished, read the rest of the article so you can contribute to the discussion later in class.

Be prepared to give an oral report on your work later in the class.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When the groups are ready, have them report to class and engage them in discussion of all the issues.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students are able to explain the status quo of specific justice issues, how the incoming Liberal government could change them, problems with the latter and what they believe would be the best approach.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on new legislation as it is tabled in the House of Commons during the coming Liberal administration.