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.

Aboriginal peoples

Indigenous peoples of Canada are recognized in the Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, sections 25 and 35, respectively, as Indians (First Nations), Metis, and Inuit. The titles of Aboriginal or Indigenous groups also refers to ethnic groups who are officially or otherwise recognized as the original (or longest running) inhabitants of a given territory or piece of land.Many indigenous groups all over the world are currently involved in struggles for their autonomy or for the recognition of their own culture, language, history and customs.


To refrain from voting for or against a motion. Members don't have to vote and records of the House don't take any official notice of an abstention.

Abstract Motion

An Abstract Motion only expresses an opinion or desire, and it doesn't bind the House or the government to any course of action.


Even politicians deserve a break every once in a while! This term refers to the time between the end of one sitting and the beginning of the next. An adjournment may be as short as few hours or over a weekend, but it can also include summer and winter holiday breaks. The power to adjourn rests solely with the House.


A stern warning by the Speaker to a Member who is caught breaching the rules of the House.


Notice paper that contains all items where notice has been given by the House of Commons


We all have to take some criticism of our work, be it constructive or not. An amendment is a change to a motion or bill. In order for an amendment to be considered by Parliament, it must be seconded by another MP or Senator. An amendment can also be amended (creating a sub-amendment), but the cycle stops there – there are no sub-sub-amendments.


An appointment to a non-judicial post made by the Governor in Council. Appointments may be reviewed (but not revoked) by a committee of the House. Certain appointments can only be made after approval by resolution of the House and/or the Senate.


A sum of money provided by Parliament for a specific purpose outlined in the government's spending estimates.

Auditor General

Officer of Parliament appointed under the Governor Council, to audit the accounts of Canada and investigate financial affairs of the government.

Back Bencher

This term refers to house members, whether in provincial or federal legislatures, who do not hold prominent positions in Cabinet, or are not given much say or voice by their own party. These MP’s most often sit in the back benches of parliament, hence the origin of the name. Being a back bencher is not very glorious and most politicians attempt to secure an important cabinet position within government or a caucus position in their own party.


This is the practice of having two separate legislative or parliamentary chambers in the making of laws. This practice is seen in most governments, where one chamber is often representative of population density (In Canada, the biggest provinces get the most seats in the House of Commons); while the other chamber tries to give some sort of to the equality of regions, provinces or states (the Canadian Senate is an attempt to make regional representation more equal). Other examples would be the House of Representatives and the Senate in the United States, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat in Germany and in Switzerland the National Council and a Council of States.


This has nothing to do with “dolla bills” in the Wu-Tang sense, but according to Wikipedia a bill is “a proposed new law introduced within a legislature that has not been ratified, adopted, or received assent”. Once a bill becomes a law, it is no longer a bill, but is then called an ‘act’. Bills either originate either from a Minister, being called Public or Government Bills, or are submitted by a MP who is not a member of Cabinet, these being called Private-Member bills.

British North America Act (BNA Act)

This legislation was passed by the British government in 1867 (also known as the Constitution Act of 1867) and it created the self-governing dominion of Canada! Woo-Hoo GO CANADA! Until this act was passed, Canada was still known as British North America, so this act basically solidified Canada as a country. The Act also outlined the division of powers between federal and provincial governments, the areas which each level governs. These are contained within sections 91, 92, 93, 94 and 95 of the act.


The budget is the government's financial plan. It states where government funds are (and aren't) going. The budget is created by the Finance Minister, who keeps it a secret until it is presented to the House.


The public service is commonly referred to as a ‘bureaucracy’ with its workers, public servants or government employees being referred to as ‘bureaucrats’. More specifically however, this term is employed in reference to employees of governmental departments such as Health Canada, Environment Canada or the Department of National Defense. In this context, people such as parliamentary aids, or say security at parliament, who although these people are government employees, would not generally be called bureaucrats.

Business of the House

A summary of each item of business considered by the House or that had appeared on Notice Paper.


The Canadian Cabinet in technical terms is a committee of the Queen’s Privy Council of Canada. In operation however, the Cabinet is the highest level executive committee in the government of Canada. It is normally made up on the Ministers or heads of the various governmental ministries as well as chosen Senators. Cabinet’s are normally referred to in the context of their leadership. Currently, the cabinet is referred to as the Trudeau Cabinet.

Cabinet Minister

A member of the executive (existing Member or Senator) appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. Cabinet Ministers are given the title "Honourable" and membership in the Privy Council for life.

Cabinet Shuffle

When the Prime Minister switches cabinet ministers from one position to another.


This term refers to political parties or candidates working in an organized way to achieve the goal of being elected. The period leading up to an election is normally referred to the period where parties are “campaigning”, which involves visiting schools, hospitals, kissing babies and other headline grabbing actions. According to the Canadian Elections Act, the minimum amount of time allocated for an election campaign is 36 days.

Canada – United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA)

When blaming poor Canadian economic performance on Canada’s trade relationship with the US, NAFTA is normally brought up as Canada’s big mistake. What most people do not realize however is that before NAFTA came into effect in 1994, Canada has already established the Canada-United Free Trade Agreement in 1988. The agreement was an attempt at reducing trade restrictions over a ten year period. The main goals of the agreement were to eliminate the barriers to trade between the two countries, establish conditions for fair competition, improve conditions for cross-border investment, and establish a mechanism to resolve trade disputes between the two nations and to finally set the foundation for future trade agreements. Once NAFTA did come into effect however, NAFTA conditions and requirements essentially overrode and rewrote what had been established through this agreement.

Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS)

This is the main security intelligence agency in Canada and is comparable to the more well known CIA in the United States. According to Wikipedia, it is responsible for “collecting, monitoring, and analyzing intelligence on threats to Canada's national security, and conducting operations, covert and overt, both within Canada and abroad”. It is headquartered in Ottawa, in a building built in 1995 to house the agency. It was established in 1984, by bill C-9, a parliamentary act. It is directly responsible to parliament through the Canadian Minister of Public Safety, and its actions are overseen by not only the courts, but also by a Security Intelligence Review Committee and the inspector general. Despite being overseen so thoroughly, little is publicly known about the operations of CSIS.


I know what you are thinking, but it had nothing to do with that. Now get your head out the gutter! In political circles, this term usually refers to a general or large meeting of members of a political party. It may mean either the meeting of the MP’s or elected representatives of a specific party or it may also refer to a more general meeting of all of the members of a political party. In Canada, the term refers to a meeting of all of the elected members of a political party, including MP’s as well as Senators. Members then elect a caucus chair who oversees all meetings and is also an important link or coordinator between members of cabinet and back benchers in a party.


The Presiding Officer at a meeting of the House, whether the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, the Acting Speaker, or at a committee.


The hall or assembly room where the House of Commons or the Senate meets.

Charter of Rights and Freedoms

This document lays out the legal rights of all Canadians. The equivalent to the US’s Bill of Rights (but with a much cooler name). It was introduced as part of the 1982 Constitution Act. It is a great matter of pride for Canadians as this law was seen as a great achievement for Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the PM at the time. Before the Charter was introduced, Canada had a 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights, however it was only a federal statute, meaning it was limited in scope, did not apply to the provinces, could be changed easily by Parliament and was not entrenched as a Constitution. It is the role of the courts to enforce the charter and it is possible that laws can be declared unconstitutional if they violate rights guaranteed in the charter.

Chief Justice

The title of the presiding judge at the supreme court of Canada. Currently that position is held by Beverly McLachlin. She is the first female Chief Justice in the history of Canada and has occupied that position since 2000 when she was appointed by PM Paul Martin.


The chief executive of House administration. The clerk reports directly to the speaker and is responsible for day to day administration. He is also the one who says the oath of allegiance at the beginning of Parliament.


A procedure that stops further delay of debate on any motion or bill. When this occurs, the motion or bill must be voted on by the end of the sitting in which closure was invoked.

Coalition government

A governing body, or cabinet of a parliamentary government formed by multiple parties who must compromise on principles. Usually it's done when no party can achieve a majority on its own, but other reasons include creating a perceived legitimacy in times of national difficulty, crisis or wartime. 


Committees are extensions of the House of Commons, that provide a visible connection between elected representatives and Canadians. There are 6 types of committees: standing, legislative, special, joint, subcommittees, and committees of the whole.

Committee of the Whole

A Committee of the Whole occurs when all members of the House of Commons or all the members of the Senate sit as a single committee. Once that committee has finished taking care of business, it ceases to exist. Committees of the Whole are often created to discuss a specific bill.


It is basically a large encyclopedia there to provide people with a better understanding of how the House of Commons and its Committees operate.

Confidence Motion

Is the government up for the job? A confidence motion is usually put before the House of Commons by the opposition in the hope of defeating or weakening the government. The motion is either passed or rejected by a vote. Bills that involve taxing or spending also act as confidence motions. If a motion of confidence passes, than business continues as usual. If it fails, than the government may have to resign or call an election.

Conflict of Interest

An issue which interferes with a Member's ability to perform his or her functions. A conflict of interest could prevent a Member from voting on a given issue.


A unanimous consent of all Members of the House when the House decides to set aside its rules or usual practice without notice.

Consentement Royal

Le consentement au nom de la Couronne mis en avant par un Ministre pour certaines propositions de lois, nécessitant le consentement du Monarque. Le consentement royal est habituellement utilisé pour les lois qui intérestent le plus la Monarchie.


An electoral district or any territorial area represented by an elected Member in the House of Commons. During debate, Members are identified not by their own names but by the name of their constituency.


The Supreme law of a country. All laws and regulations passed by the government must be in accord with its constitution. In Canada, the constitutional picture is a little complex (nice way of saying confusing). The constitution is defined under section 52(2)of the Canadian Constitution Act and includes British acts and legislation which were made even before Canada became a self-governing territory in 1867. The constitution also includes many unwritten principles as well. As vague as this may seem, the constitution is best seen as being represented by the BNA Act of 1867, the Constitution Act of 1982 as well as the principles embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Cross the floor

To leave one's political party and to join another, essentially to vote against your own party. Back in the day this was done by actually crossing the floor to the other side of the room.

Daily Order of Business

The recurring sequence of business for each sitting day in the House of Commons. It is addressed according to a predetermined sequence outlined in the Standing Orders of the House.


This term gets thrown around a lot, but not a lot of people know what it means or how it is expressed. The Webster 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.”

Department of National Defence (DND)

This government ministry is responsible for overseeing Canada’s military might, officially called the Canadian Forces. It was created in 1923 by the National Defence Act, which attempted to unite all air, navy and ground forces under one house. This however was not successfully accomplished until 1968 when the Canadian Forces was created. DND also represents the largest department in the Canadian government with 62,000 regular members of Canadian Forces, 23,000 reserve members and 22,000 civilian employees. The ministries budget is also quite large, at nearly $17 billion allocated by the last budget.

Deputy Clerk

The senior official appointed by the Governor in Council who is responsible for procedural and administrative tasks.

Deputy of the Governor General

Usually one of the justices of the Supreme Court, selected to represent the Governor General on certain occasions.

Deputy Speaker

Supports the speaker in the Chamber as presiding officer. He takes the chair when the House forms itself into a Committee of the Whole and refrains from participating in any debate.

Dilatory Motion

Moving on... dilatory motions are motions designed to change the topic being debated - the current question before the House is set aside either for the time being or permanently. Although dilatory motions are often to cause delay or annoyance, they may also be used to end a stale debate. Dilatory motions are used both by the government and the opposition.


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

Division of Powers

This is yet another fun political term, which is normally used when referring to how powers are shared in a governmental system between different levels of government (Federal, provincial and municipal). For Canada, this division of powers was laid out in the 1867 BNA Act, or Constitution Act, as contained in articles 91, 92, 92A, 93, 94, 94A and 95 of the BNA Act. Some powers are given exclusively to one level of government, while others are both federal and provincial areas of responsibility. For example, health care and education are under provincial control, while defense and military matters are exclusively federal.


The process of electing candidates via a public vote.

Electoral System

A set of rules or regulations which lays out how the executive or legislative parts of government get elected. There are many different technical ways that voting can take place such as punch cards, electronic machines or even the old paper and pen method. There are also many different ways of electing candidates, such as proportional representation or first-past the post. The federal voting system is governed by the Canadian Elections Act of 2000, while each individual province has election regulations of their own.


A restriction on the distribution or publication of a document or the information it contains.


The executive refers to the part of government responsible for making the day-to-day decisions. The executive is lead by the head of state, which is technically still the Queen and her representative in Canada, the Governor General, however in practice it is of course the Prime Minister. Technically, the federal division of powers limits law-making to the legislature, the interpretation of laws to the courts and the running of government to the executive. However, this is not necessarily the case, as the executive often extends its political hand into other areas of governance.


This refers to a union of separate or self-governing states, which unite to form a larger entity. Power then gets concentrating in a central or “federal” government. A division of powers is also important, and in Canada is represented in through the BNA Act, which lays out the federal and provincial areas of responsibility.


A term used in the political context when a member of a legislature attempts to prolong or prevent the adoption of a vote on a certain piece of legislation. This move is often employed to block a time-sensitive law to be passed or to block a law from being debated close to the end of a parliamentary term, so that the issue can only be raised in the next parliamentary session, and especially if an election is forthcoming. See, even MP’s can act like schoolchildren sometimes!

First Nations

Referring to the indigenous people of North America and their descendants who are not Inuit or Métis, this is a term used to determine ethnicity. The three categories of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis form what is called the Aboriginal peoples of Canada.

First past the Post

The candidate with the most votes in one riding (electoral district) is elected in the House of Commons; there is no need for a candidate to obtain more than 50% of the vote.

First Reading

Each bill introduced must be read three times before it can be passed. The First Reading of a bill occurs when the measure is introduced but not yet discussed. It's really a formality, as MPs don't get to sink their teeth into a bill and debate its content until the Second Reading.

Fiscal Imbalance

This refers to a monetary imbalance - usually a deficit, surprise surprise - between the federal government and the provinces & territories of a country. There are two types: 

A vertical fiscal imbalance is when the provinces/territories have more expenses than revenue and therefore need transfer payments from the federal government to cover whatever could not be paid. 

A horizontal fiscal imbalance is when different parts - like provinces - of a country have different abilities for raising fund. For example, Alberta might be able to provide more services to its citizens due to revenue from the oil and energy sectors.

Fringe Party

This term is employed when referring to small and sadly often inconsequential political parties. There exist many political parties apart from the major parties such as the NDP, Conservatives or Liberals. Fringe parties are often single issue parties, which are formed and focus only on one specific issue such as the legalization of marijuana. Single-issue parties often find it hard drawing support with such a limited party platform. Not all fringe parties are single issue however and many have enjoyed relative success, running more and more candidates in ridings every election. Remember that for a political party to be officially registered, it must run a candidate in a minimum of 1 riding. A major goal for fringe parties is often to secure government funding, for if a political party gets enough votes, it can be eligible for government support. An example of the successful rise of a fringe party would be the Green Party, which won 4.5% of the popular vote (all votes) in the last federal elections. Hey, you’ve got to start somewhere!


According to the Webster dictionary, Government is the political direction and control exercised over the actions of the members, citizens, or inhabitants of communities, societies, and states; direction of the affairs of a state, community, etc. Now that was a mouthful!! Essentially, a government is the leadership or administration of a country or community. Governments can take many forms, such as a parliamentary democracy, like Canada, a monarchy, such as the UK (although the crown now holds little power), a theocracy, which is a state with religious rule, a republic, like the United States, or even an authoritarian regime, where one person would have absolute rule – but this one can get kind of scary if the leader starts to abuse their power – yet another reason to remember to vote!!

Government Bill

A bill proposed by a government minister (duh). A Government Bill can only be introduced by a cabinet minister, and if Parliament is prorogued, the bill dies. Bills not introduced by a cabinet minister are called Private Members' Bills.

Governor General

This lucky individual, chosen by the Prime Minister, is the representative of the Queen, as officially the Queen is still the Canadian head of state. The Governor General is responsible for fulfilling all the tasks assigned to the head of state, at the federal level. Today these functions are honorific; the real power lies within the elected representatives and the Prime Minister. Among other things, the Governor General acts to promote and represent Canada internationally, grants armorial bearings, and presents awards such as the Order of Canada. The Governor General also gets to live in Rideau Hall and attend many formal events while fulfilling their duties.

Grandfather clause

Ensures that no province has fewer MPs than it was entitled to in the House of Commons as of 1986. The provinces that benefit most from this clause are are Manitoba, Quebec and Saskatchewan.


What did you say? The Hansard is a written transcript of everything said in Parliament, in both English and French.

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition (Official Opposition)

This term refers to the political party in either the federal parliament or in a provincial legislature which after an election, has won the second largest number of seats and is then sworn in as the Official Opposition. An official opposition is also formed in the federal Senate. The role of the official opposition it to keep the current government in check and ensure they are living up to their responsibilities to Canadians. Most of the time, the official opposition will also setup a shadow cabinet, assigning an MP from their party to specialize in and closely monitor the activities of one government ministry or policy area (the environment, transportation).

House of Commons

The House of Commons is the elected house within the Parliament of Canada. It is made up of 308 Members of Parliament who represent individual ridings from across the country.


The Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines ideology as “a system of ideas and ideals forming the basis of an economic or political theory”. In practice, ideology is all around us, informing our system of government, the current societal values as well as the direction of governmental policies, from the desire for universal health care, to ideas of free trade and free speech. Ideology is however not really ever spelled out to the public and the ideologies which inform politicians or specific policies are rarely discussed. It is therefore always a good thing to try and figure out the ideological place where people come from and the ideology of a chosen government or policy. Once you can pin down someone’s ideology, it can help to understand their vision, their politics, and their own personal reality. Many political critics believe that it is necessary to address ideology in the public political sphere and to include the public in ideological debates which often happen behind closed doors.

In Camera

A committee meeting which the public and the media are not allowed to attend. Other than these specified times, the rest are open to the public (and public scrutiny).

International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The IMF was created at the famous Bretton Woods following the Second World War in 1945. The goal of the IMF is to oversee the international financial system, monitor exchange rates as well as provide financial assistance and advice to countries around the globe. The IMF has faced much criticism over the past 25 years due to its Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP’s) which are conditions that get attached when giving loans to countries. Many critics believe that the SAP programs at times did more harm then good for some countries. The IMF is funded directly by its 185 member countries. In recent years, and due to the huge amount of criticism the organization has faced, the IMF is seeking to refine and update its mandate, operations, and mission as well as improve its reputation.


A term defining the indigenous people living in the Arctic in Canada the US and Siberia. These indigenous people are similar from a cultural point of view and live similar lifestyles.

Joint Committee

A committee made up of an equal number of members of both the House of Commons and the Senate. It may be either a standing or a special committee.


The court system that upholds the laws passed by the legislative branch of the government while simultaneously providing a conflict resolution mechanism.

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

The Minister responsible for managing the government's business in the House, which includes the scheduling of business with the House Leaders of the opposition parties.

Leader of the Opposition

This person is the leader of the party which is currently Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the federal parliament. In the House of Commons, the person is seated directly across from the Prime Minister. The person also gets the same pay as a member of the governments Cabinet, which is a nice little added bonus. The position does hold a great significance in holding the government accountable to the public and in giving leadership to the official opposition, and for this it ranks 13th in the order of precedence.


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

Legislative Committee

A Legislative Committee is a temporary body to analyse and explore the nitty-gritty of a specific bill. When they've finished their investigation and reported to Parliament, the committee is dissolved.

Legislative Supremacy

This term normally means that in a parliament or government, the laws of the federal or central power are absolute, and have greater power then laws at lower levels of government. Basically it would mean that federal laws override state or provincial laws. On the Canadian scene, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains a Supremacy Clause which says that the court system is able to strike down any law which is deemed ‘unconstitutional’. This forced law-makers to rewrite or to amend an act of piece of legislation. This has recently happened in the case of Security Certificates.


The area of government which is responsible for creating and passing laws. The legislature is normally made up of a large number of representatives of the population who are given an equal say in the decision making process. In Canada, the legislature is made up of the House of Commons, the Senate, and the Crown, each of whom play a part in the law-making process, though they each have separate roles and responsibilities.

Lieutenant Governor

is the representative of the Queen at the provincial level.


A group organized to influence the opinions and decisions of legislators.


Lobbying is when either individuals or a group tries to influence politicians or those with decision-making power to act in their favour. This is a very controversial practice and the current Conservative government, as part of its Accountability Act, is set to revamp the regulations concerning lobbying. The worry is over who has access to politicians and an ability to influence laws in their favour. The goal is to make the whole process open and transparent so the public can know who is influencing and talking to whom. There are even professional lobbyists, often ex-politicians, who exploit their access to their former colleagues.


A person or group who actively tries to influence legislators about a specific area of interest.


A closed-door information session set up before the presentation of a major initiative like a budget.

Majority Government

A majority government occurs when a political party obtains more than 50% of the seats in the House of Commons.


The Métis in Canada are one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. In Canada Métis are descendants of an Aboriginal person and a White person, especially French. The word Métis is French, and a cognate of the Spanish word mestizo. It carries the same connotation of "mixed blood”.


The person who is head of a governmental Ministry is given this nice fancy title to add with their name. For instance, the MP assigned to be head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade would be called the Foreign Affairs Minister. Sometimes, the term “portfolio” is also used in reference to a specific area of government which a minister would be in charge of. So if a MP is assigned the Health portfolio, they would become the Minister of Health.


Refers to a collective of all of the government ministers who are under the Prime Minister's authority. This is sometimes a hard concept to understand as it is quite similar to the Cabinet within a specific government. The problem arises where sometimes MP’s may be part of the “ministry” but will not be members of “cabinet”. The term Ministry can also be understood as a collective executive.

Minority Government

A minority government occurs when no political party obtains a majority of seats (more than 50%) in the in general election. In Canadian federal elections, when this happens the Governor General normally asks the leader of the party that won the most seats to form the next government. This often makes passing laws harder, since no one party has enough votes to guarantee a bill will pass, the parties must make deals and arrangements for to compromise on legislation. To date, there have been eleven minority governments in Canadian history.

Minutes of proceedings

A formal record, prepared by the clerk of the committee, of all decisions taken by the committee (similar to the Journals in the House).

Model Bill

A standard form provided by the Clerk of the House to those wanting to present certain types of private bills.


Une nomination a un poste officieux faite par le Gouverneur en conseil(représentant de la Reine au Canada). Les nominations peuvent uniquement être réexaminées par un comité de la Chambre. Certaines nominations ne peuvent être faites qu'après aprobation par résolution de la Chambre et/ou du Sénat.

Non-confidence Motion

When the government no longer has the support or "confidence", of a sufficient number of Members of the House to implement its policies or legislation. At this point in time the government either resigns or requests that the Governor General dissolve Parliament and calls for elections.

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)

This is one of those fun, fun, fun terms which gets thrown around a lot and has come to represent many things. Generally, an NGO is a community or not-for profit organization which was created with a specific goal or mission in mind. Sometimes NGO can be used when talking about an informal group or collective, and it can also exist in a more formal context as a registered non-profit organization. NGO’s are said to operate in the ‘third’, voluntary, or non-profit sector. The other two sectors would be the private sector, meaning business, and the public sector, meaning the government. In regards to their operation, form and mission, this can vary quite a bit. Some are quite large with huge national memberships such as the Sierra Club or Greenpeace who both have really big goals and missions, while other groups which could fall under the label NGO would be small community groups with only a dozen members who meet once a week to discuss politics. Check out Apathy Is Boring’s other material on the subject for a further information on NGO's.

North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD)

NORAD is a common defence system used to identify any incoming missiles launched at either Canada or the United States, the two countries who are members in NORAD. It was founded in 1958. The main headquarters for NORAD is in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado and has been there since 1963, although there are NORAD outposts throughout Canada, especially its North. It was created during the cold war over fears of a Russian Nuclear attack which would have most probably come directly over the artic, launched from Russia, over the artic circle, through Canada and aimed at the United States. This was the theory at least. Luckily, no such attacks ever came. The future of NORAD is not really know as Canada and the United States are still in the process of ironing out what role Canada will play in the US’s newly planned missile defense shield which it is now testing.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

This agreement was signed between the United States, Canada and Mexico, and came into effect on the 1st of January, 1994. The agreement has allowed for ‘free trade’ between the countries, meaning that goods and services can be exchanged between the countries with no duties or tariff’s being charged between these. The goal of free trade agreements such as this one is to increase inter-state trade as well as competitiveness, for the economic benefit of everyone involved. The signing of this deal caused a lot of controversy and some people are still skeptic as to whether or not Canada benefits from the agreement.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)

This is a military alliance of mostly North American and European countries, united under the principles of mutual defense and the promotion of liberty. If one of the member countries were to be attacked, all of the treaty countries would be bound to go to war, which is a condition of the North Atlantic Treaty, signed in 1949, which created the organization. It was largely a cold war institution aimed at combating the USSR, which formed the Eastern Bloc under the Warsaw Pact in opposition to NATO. There were originally 12 members at signing, and since then there have been five different sessions of enlargement where other member countries have joined. There are now 26 members. In recent years, NATO enlargement has caused some controversy as some states which used to be aligned with the USSR under the Warsaw Pact have been joined NATO. This has caused concern in Russia and in international circles, as some people worry that a new Cold War will be ignited.

Notice of Motion

Before bringing forward a substantial proposal to the House of Commons, MPs have to give a notice of motion. It's not that Parliament doesn't like surprises, but they do require some prior warning to make informed and educated decisions.

Notice Paper

The Notice Paper contains the text of motions and inquiries not yet called for debate. It lets the MPs know what they have to look forward to!

Oath of Allegiance

Refers to the swearing-in of members to the House of Commons. Members have to take the Oath of Allegiance before taking their seat, and state their allegiance to the Queen as Sovereign of Canada.

Oath of Office

An oath taken by employees of the House of Commons to carry out faithfully the duties entrusted to them.

Omnibus Bill

In general, an omnibus bill seeks to amend, repeal or enact several Acts, and it is characterized by the fact that it has a number of related but separate parts.

Order of Precedence

This is the symbolic hierarchy of importance for the positions in the Government of Canada. At the top of the list is of course the Queen, followed by the Governor General, then the Prime Minister, followed by the Chief Justice of Canada. This order has no legal standing, but is only symbolic for ceremonial protocol.

Order Paper

A fancy name for an agenda, the Order Paper is printed daily and lists the planned business of Parliament for that day. It helps MPs know what they will be dealing, and includes information such as who will be speaking, committees that will be reporting, etc.

Paired Vote

Even the House of Commons has a buddy system. When an MP from one party can't attend a vote, MPs from the other parties will often "pair" their votes, which keeps them from being counted. This is done to maintain the relative distribution of seats in the House so that a party's strength is based on who was elected, not which MPs have the flu that day.

Parent Act

In relation to a bill, the Parent Act is the previous statutory law which the bill seeks to amend.


Parliament is the legislative branch of government composed of the Sovereign (represented by the Governor General), the Senate and the House of Commons.

Parliamentary Privilege

Being in Parliament comes with perks - these rights and immunities were created to allow MPs to carry out their parliamentary duties. They include freedom of speech in the House and its committees, freedom from arrest in civil cases, exemption from jury duty or appearing as a witness;, and general freedom from obstruction and intimidation.

Party Convention

These are basically huge weekend long parties where supporters of political parties come together from all parts of a country to decide party matters and elect their party leaders. In all seriousness, party conventions are very important in the political process. These things can also sometimes get out of hand if a leadership race within a party is really tight or if supporters decide to take things to the next level. In a historic leadership fight between Chrétien and Paul Martin in the 90’s, die-hard supporters even got into fights and tried their best to wave campaign signs and shout harder, faster and louder then the next guy.

Party Whip

It is this person’s job to ensure that all MP’s from a given party vote the same in parliament. Despite what the name may suggest there is no actual whipping involved, just a whole lot of coercive talk! There also exists a position of Chief Government Whip, the party whip for the political party which holds power or leads government. This person is responsible for assigning offices and scheduling speakers of their party for various bills or votes.

Point of Order

When parliamentarians are not following proper procedure, an MP raises a Point of Order. This interrupts the proceedings to discuss the proposed problem and fix it.

Political Party

An officially recognized and governmentally sanctioned grouping of individuals who come together to form a political party with the goal of getting party representatives elected in municipal, provincial, or federal government. Yes, you and your friends can hang out together in your tree house and call yourselves a “political party” and the party can even run in a federal election. However, unless you register your party with the government under the guidelines of the Canadians Elections Act, you might have a harder time getting elected. Voluntary party registration was introduced in 1974 so political parties don’t need to be officially registered. If the party is not officially registered, the party name can not appear on an election ballot next to a candidate’s name, they would then be listed as an independent. While there are a vast number of political parties in existence, the scene is normally dominated by the big players such as the New Democrats or the Liberals; however there is also what they call “fringe” parties who may only run candidates in a small number of ridings at election time.


The responsibilities of a Cabinet Minister, which are assigned by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Previous Question

This is a special motion that prevents any further amendments (or changes) to the motion or bill before the House. It's used to try and get things moving: if the Previous Question is passed, the main motion is voted on immediately. If it fails, the main motion keeps being debated and amended.

Prime Minister

The head of government, and the leader of the party that has the largest number of seats in the House of Commons.

Prime Ministers Office (PMO)

One of the most important parts of the Canadian government, it is made up of the Prime Minister and his closest advisors. The advisors are not elected; instead, they are supposed to be chosen by the PM according to their area of expertise. The PMO is often a mysterious “closed-door” place of decision making. At times throughout history, critics have stated that this is the place where real government power rests and decisions are really made, even before they come to parliament for debate.

Private Bill

This type of bill proposes a law that would apply to a particular individual or group. Less common nowadays, they were historically used to incorporate interprovincial companies (prior to the Canada Corporations Act) and grant divorces (prior to the Dissolution and Annulment of Marriages Act).

Private Members' Bill

A bill introduced in the House of Commons by a Member of Parliament who is not a minister. It follows the same legislative process as a government bill, but unlike a bill proposed by a government minister, the time given for its consideration is limited. Private Members' Bills may be considered only during one of the (rarely-scheduled) Private Members' Hours.

Privy Council

This is a council of advisors to the Queen and its members are appointed for life by the Governor General at the advice of the Prime Minister. It includes not only current ministers but former ministers and other appointed important people. The membership is huge, but saves itself from getting bogged down by the shear numbers of people by not having meetings with the whole council in attendance. It is largely just an advisory body.

Proportional Representation

An electoral system which is sometimes seen as being more accountable or fair to the public as it takes into account each and every vote cast. Under the first-past-the-post system, the candidate with the most votes win and votes cast for other candidates are forgotten. Under that system, it is possible for a party to get five percent of all votes, but to not win any seats. With proportional representation, generally, each party writes a list of candidates. If the party gets five percent of the vote, they would be entitled to five percent of all seats. If 300 seats were up for grabs, a party with five percent of the vote would win 15 seats and the top fifteen people on their candidate list would win seats. That is just one way of running proportional representation however. Surely Canadians could come up with their own creative solution!


Prorogation is like a time-out - it ends the current session of Parliament. This is done officially by the Governor General, usually at the request of the Prime Minister. When Parliament is prorogued, both the Senate and the House of Commons are effectively closed until the opening of the next session. During a period of prorogation (or recess), the Speaker, the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, and Parliamentary Secretaries remain in office. Similarly, all Members of Parliament keep their full rights and privileges. All government bills that have not received Royal Assent prior to prorogation die, and committee activity also ceases until the new session.


This comes from the French word “proroguer”, which means to delay or postpone. For example, you can prorogue a hockey game to the following day due to bad weather conditions… or because you can’t pull yourself away from reading your friend’s facebook status updates.

Question Period

A time during each sitting when opposition MPs can ask questions of the Cabinet. The Speaker tries to maintain civility and ensure that actual, brief questions are asked. Ministers can either answera question, promise to answer it later, or dodge the question.


In an assembly that uses parliamentary procedures, quorum is achieved when there is the required number of individuals necessary to reach a decision.

Recorded Vote

When the names of those voting for and against a motion are registered in the official record of the House or of one of its committees.


A form of survey or consultation that the government conducts by ballot.


Laws which sets out rules that are usually of general application. Regulations are usually made by the Governor in Council or a Minister.


A term that is mostly thrown around after a war, it refers to the process of sending people back to their homes (i.e. putting “patriots” back in their country of origin). Reasons may include repopulation, illness, refugees, soldiers returning from war, and illegal entry into a country. It is also an economic term for converting currency.

Report Stage

The stage at which the House considers a bill after it has been examined, reported on, and possibly amended by a committee. At this stage in the life of a bill, all MPs or Senators propose amendments.


A motion adopted by the House in order to make a declaration of opinion or purpose. No action is required following the adoption of a resolution.

Revoke a resolution

To cancel the effect of a resolution previously adopted by the House.


This is where they line up all the politicians at the Calgary Stampede to see who can ride a bull the longest. Wait! I think that was just a dream... 

This term is actually used to describe an electoral district. During an election, the people living in each riding will vote one candidate into office to represent that riding. In the past, there were some multi-candidate ridings in elections, however each riding currently elects only one candidate. There are currently 308 ridings at the federal level.

Right of Reply

The right of the mover of a motion to speak a second time in debate.

Routine Proceedings

The daily time period set aside in the House to deal with routine business.

Royal Assent

The approval, by a Crown representative, of a bill passed by the House and the Senate. This makes a bill into an Act of Parliament. Traditionally, Royal Assent was given in the Senate Chamber by the Governor General in the presence of Members of the House and Senate. Today, most Royal Assents are given at Rideau Hall.

Royal Consent

The consent on behalf of the Crown that is put forth by a Minister for certain bills requiring Sovereign consent, usually when dealing with bills that are of interest to the Sovereign.

Royal Prerogative

The rights, powers and privileges enjoyed and/or exercised by the Crown.


A schedule is an appendix to a bill that contains additional details that are not included in the initial clause or text.

Second Reading

The stage in the life of a bill at which the general outline of a bill is either accepted or rejected. This is not the stage for detailed consideration – that comes in the Third Reading.

Seigneurial system

This term refers to the semi-feudal system that was used to distribute land in “New France” . Originally introduced by Cardinal Richelieu in France in 1627, each “seigneur” - or landlord- controlled a few acres of land along the Saint-Lawrence river that was divided up in long, narrow strips amongst his peasants - or habitants - who would farm and work the lands. They, in turn, paid taxes to the landlord and were also bound to work for him three days a year. These seigneurs did not own the land, but were vassals of the King of France, who all the land belonged to. Unlike France, the seigneurs were not always nobles. The King managed his affairs through his representative to New France, the Intendant, who would oversee the seigneuries and report directly to him. The system was abolished in Canada on December 18, 1854.


The Canadian Senate was designed as the ‘Sober Second Thought’ in the legislative process. This does not mean that the members House of Commons were drunks or anything like that (although there were rumours about John A. MacDonald having a big drinking problem). Legislation is normally introduced in the House of Commons, and then must pass through the Senate; however it is rare for the Senate to reject a bill. The Senate has 105 members, who are all appointed by the Governor General, but chosen by the PM. Without the inclusion of the Senate, which was designed to give more equal representation of the different regions of Canada, provincial delegates may not have agreed to conditions of the BNA Act of 1867. Senators can serve until the age of 75 and then must retire. The senate has faced many calls for reform over the years, see Senate Reform below.

Senate reform

The senate has faced many calls for reform over the years, for a variety of reasons. Senators are appointed, not elected and not directly responsible to the public, and regional arrangements at the time of confederation have changed, meaning that some regions such as the West may now be underrepresented and need more seats. Also, senators are often patrons of the Prime Minister, effectively making the Senate a nest of friends of the past few Prime Ministers. One proposed change is to elect senators. Such a house would be accountable to the people, and therefore more legitimate in the eyes of the people. Although change would be good, overhauling such an institution would undoubtedly be a long and drawn out process - this ain’t gonna happen overnight.


A meeting of the House of Commons within a session - basically, when all the MPs are sitting in the House. Although a sitting is usually a calendar day, it can last anywhere from a few minutes to multiple days.


The Speaker oversees the proceedings of the Chamber. There is a Speaker for the House of Commons, and one for the Senate. The Speaker of the House of Commons is elected by his or her peers while the Speaker of the Senate is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The most important role of the Speaker is maintaining order and procedure within the Chamber.

Special Committee

A group of MPs (and sometimes Senators) who are appointed to study a particular matter. Once a Special Committee has made its final report, the committee dissolves as its job has been completed.

Speech from the Throne

A speech normally delivered by the Governor General at the opening of a session of Parliament, although it may be read by the reigning monarch. It outlines the government's legislative plans for the session. The speech is given in the Senate chamber in the presence of both MPs and Senators.

Standing Committee

A permanent committee established by the House of Commons. Standing committees usually take responsibility for specific parts of the government - such as a department or issue - and can either study topics given to them, or undertake studies on their own initiative.


A committee within a committee – the main committee usually establishes a subcommittee to achieve a smaller task. Not all committees are given the power to establish subcommittees, and not all committees chose to establish them.

Supreme Court of Canada

The highest court in Canada and the last court of appeal. All of the decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all other courts in the country.

The Notwithstanding Clause

This clause is contained within section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. When evoked or used, it allows either Parliament or individual Provincial legislatures to override portions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or other federal laws. It is highly controversial and has only been used by lawmakers a handful of times over the past three decades or so. The threat of its use is often enough to halt a new law or cause a debate around an issue. The clause was originally including in the Charter as a comprise for those who feared the Charter put too much power in the hands of the courts and also for Provinces who feared their own autonomy or voice would be overshadowed by the federal government or the decisions of other provinces.

The Privy Council Office

This is the secretariat for the Prime Minister’s office as well as for the federal Cabinet. It acts as a support network and attempts to deliver non-partisan advice to the government of the day. It also works as a coordinating body, ensuring that the government’s policies are implemented professionally and ethically through the public service.

The World Bank (WB)

The World Bank is not a bank in the traditional sense, but is rather made up of two separate institutions, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA). Both of these institutions are owned and funded by 185 member countries from around the world. The main role of the bank is to secure loans and funding for projects aimed at reducing global poverty, improving living conditions, building infrastructure (roads, schools, hospitals) and generally providing for countries facing crisis' or in need of help.

Third Reading

A matter of life and death - once a bill has been examined and amended in the Third Reading, it is voted on. If the bill survives to vote, it goes to the Senate for approval. If it fails to obtain approval, it dies permanently.

United Nations (UN)

This organization is best summed up by the following statement from “The United Nations (UN) is an international organization whose stated aims are to facilitate co-operation in international law, international security, economic development, and social progress and human rights issues”. The organization has its headquarters in New York and is formed by 192 member states. Its operations and scope are far reaching, as the UN has activities and projects going on all over the world. In recent years, there has been talk of reform in the UN. Some want to change the non-binding status of the organizations resolutions, others want to change the power-sharing arrangement of the UN, or possibly expand the power sharing arrangement of the Security Council and remove the precious veto power from some states.


The first step in being politically involved! In Canada, a system of single-vote ballot casting is what Canadians use to elect their representatives in the House of Commons. Each person in Canada over the age of 18 is entitled to one vote in their registered riding, in federal, provincial and municipal elections.

Westminster Model

The term refers to the specific type of government that Canada uses. It is also sometimes called the Parliamentary model. Canada’s political system has its origins in the British parliamentary system, and when in 1867 the BNA Act established Canada as a nation, Canada’s institutional model was based on Britain’s. This model is still in use today with titles such as the House of Commons or the Privy Council; using the same British names or titles. Apart from Canada, other countries, mostly ex-British colonies, also employ the same model; these are: Australia, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malta.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

This international organization, created in 1995, works to oversee, arbitrate, promote and liberalize international trade. It was formed on the heels of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), which since 1947 was a sort of informal talk shop used by states to make trade agreements. While GATT was not really a formal organization, it did produce many trade agreements over the years between member states. Today, the WTO is a place where trade disputes are resolved and binding decisions are imposed on states. Furthermore, world trade regulations continue to develop in the organization and it is certain that the WTO will play a big role in shaping the context of international trade.

Written Questions

More details please! When questions posed to a Minister are too complex or technical for a spoken response, the answers can be given in written or oral form within 45 days.


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