Democracy Dictionary

Political jargon can sometimes be difficult to understand, but that doesn't mean it should stand in the way of you participating in the democratic process. Here's a partial glossary of terms relating to Canadian democracy to get you started. 

It can also double as a great drinking game for your next party - but you didn't hear that from us.

Advance polls
More voting days, more convenient! If you don’t want to wait until Election Day, you can vote early on any of the advance voting days. And this time you’ll be able to vote up to 15 days in advance!

Absentee ballot
Can’t make it the polling station? Don’t worry, you can mail in your vote. Just make sure you apply to do so in advance.

That slip of paper with the candidates’ names that you use to make your vote at the polling station.

An election held between general elections, usually because the sitting Member of Parliament (MP) has resigned.

No, not “dolla bills” in the Wu-Tang sense. A bill is a proposed new law introduced within a Legislature that has not been adopted, or approved yet. Once a bill becomes a law, it is no longer a bill, it’s then called an ‘act’.

The person you vote for in an election. Once Parliament has been dissolved, there are no MPs, everyone running is a candidate.

Door-to-door candidate outreach initiating contact with potential voters.

Basically, all the voters in a specified area, like a neighbourhood or a riding, who elect a single MP to represent them.

The highest level executive committee in the government of Canada. It’s normally made up of the Ministers or heads of the various governmental ministries as well as chosen Senators.

Right on the nose with this one. Webster’s Dictionary defines democracy as: “government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” In short, power to the people.

Out with the old! A dissolution ends a session of Parliament and is followed by a general election. This is done by the Governor General at the request of the Prime Minister.

Field Liaison Officer 
A field liaison officer (FLO) is Elections Canada and returning officers (ROs)’s trusty advisor and support system. FLOs are in charge of an area, composed of around 10 to 14 electoral districts, usually located near their home.

General election
That really big election in which all seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs and a new federal government is formed.

Did that MP really just say that? You can find out by checking the Hansard, which is a written transcript of everything said in Parliament, in both English and French.

House of Commons
The elected house within the Parliament of Canada. It’s made up of 338 Members of Parliament who represent individual ridings from across the country.

The court system that puts the laws passed by the lawmakers into practice while simultaneously providing a conflict resolution mechanism.

The laws accepted and put forth by Parliament, including orders and regulations.

The area of government which is responsible for creating and passing laws. Normally made up of a large number of representatives of the population who are given an equal say in the decision making process.

Member of Parliament (MP)
Elected officials from each of the 338 federal ridings become members of the House of Commons that go to Ottawa and fight for our rights. Literally.

Minority government
Minority governments take place when no party has more than half the seats in the House of Commons. Most of the time, the party forming the government* still has the most seats compared to the others.

*Sometimes parties can team up. In a handful of cases, there has been a coalition of parties that formed governed instead of the party that received the most seats in an election. #teamwork

All of the government ministers under the Prime Minister's authority.
Kinda similar to the Cabinet within a specific government, only some MPs may be part of the “ministry” without being members of “cabinet”.

If the “Album of the Year” Grammy category is a political party, then the nominees are the candidates who want to win by popular vote and represent said party. They just have to win first, before going up against other parties in an election.

The parties not in government make up the Opposition. The largest of the opposition parties is known as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. It’s more than just a fancy name though. It receives extra parliamentary funding in recognition of its status, and the Leader of the Opposition gets to live in a fancy house.

On-campus voting offices
Stuck at Uni on election day? You can now cast your vote on campus as an early voting option. #NoExcuses

The law making machine of government made up of the Sovereign (represented by the Governor General), the Senate and the House of Commons.

Polling station
That random church basement, community center, or library where electors go to vote. Each elector is assigned to a specific polling station, based on your home address.

If the result of a vote is close, any candidate may ask for a recount. The process can be repeated as many times as necessary until the candidates are satisfied. The returning officer calls the shots on whether a recount takes place.

Returning officer
The person responsible for the delivery and control of federal electoral events within the electoral district to which they are appointed.

Riding association
A local association of members belonging to a political party in an electoral district.

"Yes" or "No" ? You get to decide. Referendums are used by governments to consult the people on specific issues in the form of a written question. “Brexit” ring any bells?

An MP elected by other members of the House of Commons to chair those heated debates we see on TV and deal with the running of the House. Usually, this person isn’t opposed by any of the main parties at elections, remains neutral, and only casts a vote if there’s a tie.

Spoiled ballots
A ballot is considered spoilt, null, void, or invalid by a Returning Offer if it’s filled out incorrectly. This could be intentional or accidental. Spoiling your ballot can be a way to state your dissatisfaction with all candidates running.

Special ballot
Used by electors who cannot go to their polling stations, this ballot can be sent in by mail, or filled in at the local Elections Canada office. They differ from regular ballots in that the elector writes in the name of his or her preferred candidate, and doesn’t select from a list.

Tactical voting
Voting for a party one doesn’t actually support, just to keep out a more disliked rival.

Vote-by-vote arrangement
Try saying this 5 times, quickly. This deal happens when a minority government negotiates support for its policies by seeking the backing of other parties, who would vote for it in the House of Commons.

It’s election time! You’ll soon be hearing “drop the writ” all over the news. This document, signed by the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), instructs the returning officer in an electoral district to conduct an election on a specific date. After the election, the returning officer writes the name of the winning candidate on the writ, signs it, and returns it to the CEO.