Not sure what a political term means? CJPAC can help. This is our handy glossary of common political terms to help you better understand politics and get more engaged.
A bill that’s approved by both the House of Commons and the Senate and has received Royal Assent becomes known as an Act of Parliament.
Adjournment refers to the end of a sitting within the same session of Parliament. For example, the House normally adjourns for the summer months starting in mid-June to resume sitting sometime in September. The House may also adjourn for smaller periods of time, including a week or two at various times throughout the sitting calendar. During an adjournment, MPs typically work and spend time in their own ridings and meet with constituents.
Exact dates for sitting and non-sitting periods weren’t enacted until the House adopted Standing Order 28(2) in 1982, which you can read more about on the House of Commons website.
Why wait to vote on election day when you can vote early? Elections Canada has made it easy for people to vote at advance polls which are open on the 10th, 9th, 8th and 7th days before election day. No need to wait in long lines to vote ever again! #NoExcuses
An MP who’s not a Minister, Parliamentary Secretary, House Leader, Whip or a party spokesperson. For those more familiar with sports terminology: not a starting player.
Everyone registered to vote gets one! When Canadians show up to vote we’re each given a ballot with the names of the candidates up for election in their riding. Each ballot = 1 vote and the coolest part? They’re secret! You fold it and drop it in a box where it will eventually be counted. Candidates with the most ballots win!
A proposal for a law that Parliament is asked to consider. Can originate in either chamber of Parliament – the Senate or the House of Commons.
The yearly plan for where the Government is going to get money and how it will spend money. Varies from year to year and government to government.
An election held in a specific riding to fill a seat vacancy which may arise for various reasons during the course of Parliament. It must be called by the Governor General – upon the advice of the Prime Minister – within a period of 11-180 days of the seat being vacated. Sometimes viewed as an indication/test of the governing party’s popularity among voters. Individual writs are issued for these elections.
Merriam-Webster may define this as a piece of furniture, often made of wood. We know. But in this context, cabinet refers to a group of ministers chosen by the Prime Minister to work with him or her, each representing different government departments. The cabinet, as a body, is responsible for the administration of the government and the establishment of its policy. Cabinets vary in size from one Parliamentary session to another. Above and beyond credentials, geographic and gender distribution play important roles in determining eligibility.
A member of Cabinet, chosen by the Prime Minister to head a specific department. (Also referred to as just a Minister.) Usually chosen from among existing members and Senators, Ministers are responsible to Parliament for their official actions and those of their departments. Cabinet Ministers are given the title “Honorable” and membership in the Privy Council for life. That’s what the “PC” in someone’s title means. It’s a pretty exclusive club!
Not a dance move. This is an event in which the Prime Minister chooses to switch up his/her Cabinet Ministers. Entirely new ministers can be named, some removed for various reasons, and some changed from one portfolio to another. Cabinet shuffles are often political in nature and an attempt by the government to remain in the good graces of the electorate. They can and often do precede elections being called, but they can also be used to avoid an election.
Political campaigns don’t stop. In fact, they run almost 24/7. The person overseeing the entire operation is the campaign manager. They’re like a head coach that calls the shots, often behind the scenes, while the candidate is doing their best to meet as many voters as possible. The campaign manager oversees communications, GOTV strategy, hiring, campaign staff, E-day logistics and is a trusted partner to the candidate.
This is where the action unfolds during an election campaign! Forget 9-5 office hours! A campaign office runs from the crack of dawn until long after the sun goes down every day of a campaign (weekends included). It’s the hub from which campaigns are run, where volunteers meet up, where phone banking is done, where events are hosted and where all the fun is had! Most candidates have one, but not all have the budget for one. Campaign offices are open for the duration of a campaign. So as quicky as they pop up, they close down right after the election results are in.
This is the length of time a campaign runs for. Governing parties try to call elections so that the duration of the campaign works to their advantage. The window can be a maximum of 50 days and a minimum of 36 days.
A candidate is someone who adds their name to a ballot in any given election. For federal elections, political parties try to recruit the best possible candidates in each of Canada’s 338 ridings. The party with the most candidates elected gets to form the next government!
Each campaign works tirelessly to identify who the people are in their riding that will vote for them, will vote against them, or those who are undecided. Why? Because in order to win, everything must be done to ensure your supporters vote and the only way to know who they are is by canvassing! There are two ways to canvass. Phone calls and door-knocking. Both take lots of volunteers!
A group of elected officials from the same political party at any level of government. We’ve thrown a few sports analogies at you so far, so here’s another! Just look at a caucus as if it were a team. In this analogy, the players on the team are the elected officials.
A census is a survey about a population. Typically, a given country’s government will issue a census at regular intervals for all residents to fill out. Census questions are aimed at better understanding the accurate size of its population and the demographics within.
Canada conducts a census every five years. The census provides critical data that guides government allocations. It also plays a key role in helping Jewish organizations plan the future of Jewish programs and services in our local and national communities.
In the 2016 census, the Jewish community’s size was under-reported by a large margin, limiting the community’s ability to address our community’s our most important issues: antisemitism, poverty, security, and support for the people of Israel.
In 2021, there was a push for becounted.ca, which asked those who received the long-form census and identify as Jewish to say so in the ethnicity and religion sections.
A candidate’s campaign appoints a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) to diligently record all financial information and ensure compliance with the Election Finances Act. A CFO typically is someone well versed in accounting and bookkeeping. Among many obligations, a CFO is responsible to guarantee all accepted campaign donations are eligible, manage the campaign budget, issue tax receipts and maintain financial records for a minimum of six years post campaign in case of audit by the Canadian Revenue Agency.
Yes, this may sound like it’s straight out of Harry Potter, but it actually simply refers to the rooms in which either the House of Commons or the Senate meet. There are two Chambers in Parliament.
Elections Canada, and the elections it administers, is overseen by the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada. Appointed by Parliament, the CEO position was first established in 1920 and, as of 2014, appointments are for a period of 10 years.
A civic duty or responsibility means the active participation in the public life of a community. It’s about trying to make a community the best it can be. One good way to carry out your civic responsibility is volunteer in an election with the party of your choice! We can help you. Pledge to volunteer here and we can connect you to the campaign or candidate of your choice. We can also teach you how to be an all-star volunteer!
Bills that are put forward are split into different sections, or clauses. Once a bill becomes law, clauses become sections.
This is the final phase of a committee’s evaluation of a bill. It’s when each clause is studied by members individually prior to being sent back to the House with recommendations.
This refers to a decision made by the Government to end debate on a certain bill or motion and bring about a vote.
A coalition government is formed when two or more political parties come together to form a temporary alliance big enough in numbers to attain a majority of the seats in parliament allowing them to form the government and pass legislation. Coalition governments occur when a party wins an election but not with enough seats to form a majority government. We’ve seen this happen in countries that have experienced volatile periods, such as political & social unrest or war.
A group of Senators, MPs, or both, selected to study a specific subject or bill and write a report about it. There are several types of committees: standing, legislative, special and joint as well as Committees of the Whole.
This is an agreement when one ruling party agrees to support another in confidence votes for a certain amount of time, typically in exchange for progress on specific files.
If the two parties have enough combined votes, this can assure that confidence votes (such as budgets and throne speeches) will pass. This prevents Parliament from dissolving, which if it did dissolve would trigger an election.
A party might agree to support confidence votes because they are then assured more say in how future legislation is written or discussed, thereby advancing their own platforms and the needs of their supporters.
An important thing to note is that this is not a coalition government. The agreeing party does not attain ruling status and can still vote against (or disagree) with the legislature or decisions made by the ruling party.
Confidence vote – This is a major event in politics! Members of Parliament (MPs) must vote on whether they support the government in power, or not. Whether they will place their confidence in said government to govern, or not. If the majority of MPs vote in favor of supporting the government, then what happens? Well, nothing! BUT, if the government fails to get the majority to vote in favor, then the government either resigns or requests that the Governor General dissolve Parliament and give orders for the issuing of election writs, AKA elections! Typically budgets and throne speeches are confidence votes, but the government can apply them to any issue in the House.
Constituents are all of the people represented by an elected official. For example, the people who live in a particular riding would be the constituents of their Member of Parliament. It’s important for elected officials to remember that while not all constituents in their riding voted for them, they do represent each and every one.
AKA a riding office – every MP has one. In some cases if the riding is really massive they can have more than one! This office is run by the MP’s staff to ensure that all matters related to people living in their riding are looked after. It is the first point of contact between MPs and the residents of their riding.
Canada’s federal political parties each host a convention usually every other year for their membership. Conventions are held in various cities across the country. They give members a chance to come together to debate, discuss and decide on important policy items. These items can form that party’s agenda in the House of Commons or their platform leading up to an election. They’re also a great opportunity to meet like-minded folks from across Canada while visiting a city you may not have seen before!
To change political allegiance, signified in the House of Commons when an MP takes a seat as an independent or with a different party.
Not just a Netflix show! This can refer to: the Queen as Canada’s Head of State, or the Governor General, or it can refer to the executive branch of government, the Cabinet.
Every riding association votes to elect a slate of delegates to represent their riding at a leadership convention or party convention. Delegates form a sort of team for each riding that can then vote on matters raised at the convention on their riding’s behalf.
A public servant who reports directly to the Minister in charge of their department. They are the permanent administrative head of a government department and responsible for its day‑to‑day management. Unlike the Ministers themselves, Deputy Ministers are not beholden to elections nor to the government in power.
Okay, so this may sound like something you would have done in your Grade 11 science class with a Bunsen burner. Throwback much?? Not quite the direction we’re going in though. Parliament being dissolved is a fancy way of saying ended/stopped/kaput. This happens when the Prime Minister goes to the Governor General in order to ask that Parliament be dissolved so that elections can be held. It’s a ceremonial and symbolic procession, but still a necessary one, as the power to dissolve Parliament lies with the Governor General and not the PM. There have been 44 sessions of Parliament since Canada became a country. Each has been dissolved so that elections would be held to allow for the next.
This is exactly what it sounds like! During every campaign thousands of doors are knocked on in every riding across Canada by campaign volunteers and candidates themselves. The reason? To try to determine whether or not the person or people living behind that door supports your campaign. If they do, then the campaign will find out if they need help on election day to go vote. Door-knocking is one of the most concrete ways that candidates can connect with potential voters.
This is what it all comes down to! Election Day: aka E-Day. Polling stations in every single riding across Canada are open, voters are (hopefully) out in droves and campaigns are firing on all cylinders. Campaign staff and volunteers do their best in the final hours of a gruelling election to get every last vote they can. Polls close in the evening, but results are not immediately known as the tabulating can last into the wee hours of the night or even into the next day. Anxiety inducing much?
An elector is a person who is eligible to vote. Sounds simple, right? Well, different levels of government have different criteria for what constitutes an elector. Federally, one must be a Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years old on polling day. Want to vote in the next election? It’s likely that you’re already registered in the Elections Canada database since it’s usually automatic, but if you’re not sure you can check using the Online Voter Registration Service.
Did you know that Canada is the second largest country in the world? That’s pretty big! So, in order to have the federal government manage the country effectively, Canada has been divided into 338 electoral districts or ridings, which comprise the electoral map.
A delay tactic used to slow or entirely prevent something in either committee or the House from being passed or voted on. Through excessively long speeches or diatribes sometimes completely unrelated to the matter at hand, an MP or group of MPs do their best to prevent progress in the House from happening. This tactic has been extremely limited over time with the establishment of new rules on how long MPs can speak for.
This is Canada’s electoral system. People vote for one candidate in their riding and whichever candidate has the most votes (a plurality) wins. In other words, whoever has the most votes passes the post first and wins. This is different than other voting systems where the winning candidate must win the majority of all votes. Similarly, the federal party that wins the most seats forms the government and the leader of that party becomes Prime Minister. Note, if that party wins less than the majority of seats (i.e. they win 169 or less of the 338 ridings) they’re still in power, but hold only a minority government.
A General Election is actually not one election, but rather many elections running simultaneously in every constituency of whatever level of government is up for election – municipal, provincial or federal. In the case of a federal general election, there are 338 elections being run simultaneously across the country in every single riding. These elections are triggered following the Governor General dissolving a session of Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister. Once the elections are called, 338 writs, or legal orders from the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada are issued to returning officers in each of Canada’s ridings. The maximum amount of time allotted for these elections is 50 days, while the shortest is 36 days. Candidates from various parties present themselves in each individual riding across the country. The winners are determined based on the plurality of votes in any given riding on election day. The party who elects the most MPs forms the government. They are generally held every 4 years, but not always. The maximum amount of time between elections is 5 years. They can be, and often are, called earlier in cases of minority governments.
GOTV stands for Get Out The Vote! It is an important part of any successful campaign. It’s a strategy to get the most eligible voters as possible (i.e. those that will vote for your candidate) to the polls on election day or to vote in advance.
The easiest way to understand this one is to consider the Government House Leader the head coach of the Government in Parliament. They are the Cabinet member responsible for managing the Government’s business in the House, who says what and when, including negotiating the scheduling of business with the House Leaders of the opposition parties.
He or she is appointed by the Queen, upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister, to be the Queen’s representative as Head of State in Canada. They are normally appointed for a period of 5 years. The GG summons, prorogues and dissolves Parliament (fancy way of saying ends Parliament which leads to elections), reads the Throne Speech, gives Royal Assent to bills and signs many other state documents. The GG ensures that we Canadians have a Prime Minister and government in place with the confidence of Parliament.
This is the office that MPs work out of when they are in Ottawa and not in their ridings. Unlike constituency offices, Parliament Hill offices are places where matters related to Parliament are handled.
The elected house, or Lower Chamber of Parliament . Made up of 338 members from across Canada who are elected to represent ridings or electoral districts.
This is just another way of saying MPs are working in Ottawa in the House of Commons (or virtually in the House of Commons) and not in their ridings or on break.
Wondering who that person in Parliament is that looks like they’re wearing a tuxedo from a bygone era? You’ve definitely seen them in photos. That’s the Speaker, or House Speaker, or Speaker of the House. They are an MP elected by the House to preside over the House’s proceedings. More specifically, he or she is responsible for maintaining the peace in the House. No name calling, no insulting, no jeering, etc…And if you do, you’re out! Because the Speaker said so. So, basically, the Speaker is the House referee. Coincidence that they, like referees, wear black and white??
This refers to Members of Parliament as a body, or the actual room in which the House of Commons convenes.
Whenever a party leader steps down, for whatever reason, a major decision must be made. Who will take the helm? The next party leader is determined by a leadership race. It’s a great opportunity to volunteer if you haven’t already.
Every political party leader’s dream! This happens when a single political party, or a coalition, has the majority of seats in the House of Commons. In order to form a majority government, a party needs to win at least 170 out of the 338 seats.
This is a term we use a lot, but we usually shorten it to MP. An MP is elected to a seat in the House of Commons as a representative of one of Canada’s 338 ridings.
This is the case when a government is formed by a party, possibly in a coalition, that doesn’t hold a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. It must maintain the confidence of the House to continue to govern. Longest standing minority government we’ve ever had? 24 months. On average, they last around 18 months.
A proposal made by a member for the House or a committee to do something, to order something to be done, or to express an opinion about an issue. So that a motion can be presented in the House or a committee for consideration, it has to be made and seconded. No seconder is required in committee. Once adopted, a motion becomes an order or a resolution.
Not good for whoever is PM, this is a vote which, if passed, indicates that the government no longer has the support of enough MPs to continue to govern. Such support is usually referred to as “confidence”. What happens next? Well, the government either resigns or requests that the Governor General dissolve Parliament and give orders for the issuing of election writs, AKA elections!
Before becoming an official candidate in an election, first one must be nominated by their chosen party in their chosen riding. They need to fulfill the party’s requirements to be a candidate for the nomination. All the party’s members that live in that riding vote can for the candidate of their choice. The real competition here is signing up as many new members (who have to purchase a membership) and getting them out to vote. The person with the most votes wins the nomination and becomes the general election candidate for their party for that riding. More plainly, it’s the election before the election!
An MP from an opposition party who is responsible for presenting that party’s policies in a given area and commenting on the policies of the government. They are usually named as counterweights to individual members of Cabinet.
A political party that is neither the government party nor part of (in the case of a minority government) the coalition of parties forming the government. In other words, these fine folks don’t hold the keys to the kingdom just yet, but hope to change that in the next election.
So this one is a little tricky. It can refer to one of three things:
1) A period of time during that Parliament is in session. A Parliament has a maximum lifespan of five years. These periods are numbered consecutively (for example: Forty-Second Parliament, Forty-Third Parliament, etc.).
2) The legislative branch of government made up of:
3) The grouping of buildings in Ottawa that comprise Parliament.
While many an MP may wish to be appointed to Cabinet, this comes as a close second. A Parliamentary Secretary is an MP of the government party named to assist a Minister with his or her portfolio. They may table documents or answer questions on the Minister’s behalf, but may not introduce government bills.
Each federal political party has an executive comprised of lay leaders who volunteer their time toward helping the party reach out to the grassroots, raise funds and find candidates. Party execs include an array of positions party members can run for and are a terrific way to take one’s political engagement to the next level!
Political parties wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for their members! Canadians can join any political party. Requirements for membership vary for each party. Some have an annual fee in order to retain one’s membership. Members play a key role in deciding party platform, direction, and leadership.
Not every party has a youth wing! Those that do consider it an excellent way for youth to get involved in politics, providing a place to get politically engaged without feeling like the only “kid” in the room. They can have their own conventions and meetings and also provide a way for political parties to learn what their youngest members care most about. Others feel that a youth wing can sideline their younger members to a “kids’ table” rather than keeping them involved in the overall party structure and party discourse.
Ever walked into a campaign office and wondered why so many people are sitting around making calls? They’re phone banking! Volunteers sign up to make calls to electors to see if the campaign can count on their support, and, if so, that they know where they need to vote, when they need to vote and if they need any help getting there. This information is invaluable to a campaign and elections have come down to just which candidates’ teams made more calls. Due to COVID19, people can now make calls from the comfort of their homes!
Political parties at every level of government develop platforms that outline their priorities leading up to an election. They touch on things like the economy, immigration, language, education, etc. Look at platforms like menus. Whichever menu you like the best you can choose by voting for that party.
A place where electors vote. How many polling stations are in each riding depends on a number of factors, but all electors should vote at their designated one. If you’re a registered voter you will receive a voter information card a few days before the election that lists your polling station location.
The top dog politically in Canada. The PM is leader of the government who is usually the leader of the party with the majority of seats in the House of Commons. Appointed by the Governor General, the Prime Minister selects the other members of the cabinet and, along with them, is responsible to the House for the administration of public affairs. We’ve had 23 of them so far!
A Member of Parliament that is not a Minister, nor Speaker of the House.
The ending of a session of Parliament without dissolving Parliament. Think of it like a long adjournment. It serves as a way of resetting the legislative agenda of the government without triggering elections.
This theatrical daily event is one of the elements of Parliament most comparable to sports. “QP” is a daily 45‑minute period in the House during which oral questions may be addressed primarily to Ministers and committee chairs. Ministers may be questioned only about the responsibilities of their current portfolio.
Not entirely the same meaning as when you were a kid in school. Recess refers to the period between the end of one parliamentary session and the beginning of the next
It’s important to vote! We can’t say it enough. While we try to remind people as often as we can, our reach is somewhat limited. Elections Canada, though, sends out reminder cards to every registered voter in Canada in case they forget!
Federal ridings are geographic areas across Canada; each has an MP to represent it in the House of Commons. The boundaries of each riding are drawn up according to Elections Canada and up for review every 10 years. Each riding is established in a way that the population per riding is averaged out as best as possible throughout the country. Canada currently has 338 ridings.
Federal political parties have riding associations in most ridings across Canada. With a few exceptions, riding associations help parties know what’s going on in the area from a grassroots level. They vary in size and budget according to how much they are able to raise. They host fun activities throughout the year and have regular meetings to discuss platform priorities.
Now this sounds like something straight out of a storybook! Royal Assent is a procedure based on British tradition and one of the oldest parliamentary traditions that exists. The sovereign or their representative, the Governor General, gives the final stamp of approval on a bill in this ceremony after it has been approved by both the Sentate and the House of Commons. After this final step, the bill at hand becomes an Act of Parliament and implemented as law on whatever date has been decided upon.
The Upper Chamber of the Parliament usually consists of 105 Senators, appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Senate possesses all of the powers of the House of Commons except that of initiating financial legislation. It was coined as the chamber of “sober second thought” by Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald.
A member of the Senate in Canada. There are 105 Senators who represent regions of Canada, and they are appointed for life. Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Sounds spooky, doesn’t it? This is the group of Opposition Critics that are selected by the Official Opposition Party to counter the actual Cabinet of the Government in their respective departments.
How do you know an election is happening? SIGNS! They’re suddenly everywhere and seem to go up overnight. From the moment an election is officially called every campaign across the country deploys a team of volunteers in the wee hours of the night to make sure they put up more signs than their adversaries and in more strategic spots. There are a lot of rules pertaining to signs, like when you can put them up, where you can put them and of course when they have to be taken down by. Campaigns ask constituents if signs can go on their lawns (or poles in QC) and electors often request them on their own volition.
A snap election is an election that is called earlier than required or expected. Often called to capitalize on political momentum when elections are not required, the campaign time is usually very short. Sometimes as short as possible. Just like the snap of a finger, a snap election is quick and can catch you by surprise!
GOT reference? Not quite. This is a speech given at the start of a session of Parliament or following the prorogation of a session. The speech is delivered in the Senate Chamber and outlines the Government’s legislative agenda it plans to introduce throughout the upcoming session. In simpler terms, it’s the Government’s game plan for the session ahead, delivered in a speech by the Governor General: the Queen’s representative in Canada.
This is the number one thing we at CJPAC would like to see more people do! From a political perspective, volunteering is when you sign up to lend a hand to a campaign, riding office, riding association or other political organization to help them achieve their goals. It’s an incredible way to meet like-minded people and expand your network all while shaping the future of your community.
This position is critical to a campaign’s chance of success. Volunteer coordinators recruit, train and deploy their volunteers throughout the campaign. From making phone calls, to door-knocking, to the massive effort required on E-Day, volunteer coordinators keep the team energized and working! It can be challenging to figure out who goes where, how to help them succeed and ensure they are properly thanked.
An MP charged with keeping other members of their same party informed concerning House business and ensuring colleague attendance in the House or in committee, especially when a vote is expected. Whips are there to “whip” their party members into line and make sure things get done! Hardly an easy task.
Ever heard someone say that the writ has dropped when a general election is called? Well, that isn’t technically correct. Many writs are issued. One per riding to be exact. AKA as a written order, a writ is a legal document that must be issued in order for an election to be held anywhere in Canada by the Chief Electoral Officer. No election can be held without a writ being issued. The writ outlines the duration of the campaign, the date of the election, advanced polling days and the deadline for candidates to submit their names to be up for election. Once the elections are over and the votes tallied, writs are returned to the Chief Electoral Officer with the official count and name of the winning candidates on them.
A term you probably hear often is “writ drop,” which commonly refers to the events that officially trigger an election. This is an incorrect term. The correct term is “writ drawn up.”
The writs (yes, must be plural) are issued once the PM asks the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, putting an end to the current session, thus triggering a general election. The 338 writs are composed – hence “drawn up” – then signed by Governor General and issued, one per riding. Once the election is over, they are signed, sealed and delivered to the Chief Electoral Officer with the official results dictating who forms the next session of Parliament. See “writ” for an explanation.