An election dictionary
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SEARCH DICTIONARY TOPICS A to Z
advance poll (n) traditionally a place where anyone unable to vote in their normal location on voting day, such as travellers, can vote before (in advance of) election day. Now, any registered voter may vote in an advance poll. People may vote either in an advance poll or in their riding on election day, but not both. Advance polls are held between noon and 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Monday, the 10th, 9th and 7th days before election day.
Alliance (n, proper, slang) short-form name for Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance party. Abbreviation: C.A. In 2003, the C.A. joined with the P.C. party to form the Conservative Party of Canada.
attack ads political advertisements for one party or special-interest group, actively attacking the personalities, policies or people in another group or party. Attack ads are distinct from generic political ads, which only promote the views, policies and people of the sponsoring group.
backbench (n) refers to the higher (back) members' benches in the House of Commons, farther from the floor and the Speaker of the House. Traditionally, ministers, leaders and influential members of government and the Opposition sit in the front (lower) rows. A "backbencher" is an MP seldom involved in party planning or policy creation, but who might sit on parliamentary committees.
ballot question (n) the issue that will be on the top of voters' minds when they cast their ballots. (In the United States, a ballot question more often refers to a question posed on a ballot in a referendum, for example.) In the current federal election campaign, some parties are openly trying to suggest what the ballot question should be. For example, the Liberals believe it should be some variation of "Which leader do you trust to deliver the kind of government you really believe in?" The Conservatives are framing it as "Does Canada deserve a change in government?" However, as always, it is the voters themselves who will ultimately decide the ballot question, and act upon it accordingly. There is no way of knowing what the Jan. 23 ballot question will truly be until the election results are in, when exit polls and other opinion surveys can ask voters why they marked their ballots the way they did.
Bloc Québécois (n, proper) with a main goal of pushing for the sovereignty of Quebec, the political party doesn't field candidates outside that province. It was launched in 1990 by MPs from other parties who were angry over the defeat of constitutional reforms favourable to Quebec. The Bloc held 53 seats at the end of the last session of Parliament. (see "sovereignty)
blog (n) short for weblog, an internet-based journal or newsletter that is regularly updated by its author and is intended to be read by members of the public. Political blogging has become a force to be reckoned with in the modern election campaign, with supporters from different camps racing to analyze events or fact-check statements on the campaign trails. Blogs are often chatty in style, featuring direct links to their source material to avoid having to quote extensively from another website, and many are structured to allow readers to add their own comments.
boondoggle (n, slang) a government-sponsored make-work project or program with little purpose other than political patronage. The word "boondoggle" usually refers to a project that loses money and/or fails to perform nominal purpose.
byelection (n) a parliamentary election in one or more electoral districts, but not in all districts, caused by the departure of a sitting MP (for example, by death, retirement or resignation). An MP elected in a byelection may sit in the House until the next general election.
Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance (n, proper) official name of the political party commonly known as the Canadian Alliance. The party was formed in 2000 after a failed attempt to merge the opposition Reform Party of Canada and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. Considered to be on the right of the Canadian political spectrum. In 2003, this party joined with the PC party to form the Conservative Party of Canada.
candidate (n) person standing for election. A candidate must file nomination papers signed by at least 100 people entitled to vote in the electoral district and signed before a witness. These papers and other financial audit documents must be filed with the district electoral office by 2 p.m. local time on close of nomination day, which is the Monday, 21 days before the election. If the candidate wishes to be identified with a political party, he or she must also submit a letter of endorsement signed by the leader of that party. Candidates must pay a deposit of $1,000 as a guarantee that they will comply with election rules. This is refunded if they file a proper financial statement after the election.
caucus (n) 1. a closed-door meeting between a group of people planning matters of concern to all. 2. A subcommittee or faction of a larger group. 3. All the elected members of a political party. Possibly from the Algonquin word "cau-cau-is" for "adviser."
Co-operative Commonwealth Federation or CCF (n) A left-wing political party founded in 1932, it merged with the Canadian Labour Congress in 1961 to form the NDP. Established as a democratic socialist party by various labour, farm, socialist and co-operative groups, its objective was to bring about reforms to assist those suffering due to the Great Depression. Highly critical of capitalism, the CCF advocated universal pensions, health care and welfare insurance, unemployment insurance and workers compensation along with other economic and social programs.
confidence motion (n) sometimes referred to as a "no-confidence or "non-confidence motion, this is a motion that has the power to bring down the government. Generally, if Canada's governing party cannot earn the support of a majority of MPs on a major budget vote, a vote to accept the speech from the throne or a major piece of legislation, the vote is treated as a confidence motion. A government can declare even a minor vote a confidence measure if it wants to be defeated in order to bring on a general election it thinks it can win, though. More usually, opposition parties combine to force an election on a minority government, either by voting against one of the major motions listed above, or by voting in favour of a motion that expresses a lack of confidence in the government's ability to govern. The latter is what happened on Nov. 28, 2005, plunging the country into a December-January election campaign. (see "minority government")
conservative (n) term formerly used to describe a supporter of the Progressive Conservative party, now used to describe members of the Conservative Party of Canada. Written with a small "c," conservative is an adjective describing a person on the right of the Canadian political spectrum, which would include Conservative Party supporters.
Conservative Party of Canada (n, proper) created in late 2003 from a merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties. Since 1993, vote-splitting in traditionally conservative ridings by those two right-leaning parties had boosted the majority of the centrist Liberal government. In the 2004 election, the Conservative Party of Canada elected 99 members of Parliament.
democracy (n) a system of government in which individuals cast votes for elected representatives in a multi-party election. From the Greek "demos," meaning "people." debate (n) in the context of a Canadian general election, an event at which the major party leaders get together to address campaign and leadership issues. In the current campaign, the five main leaders agreed to debate each other two times, once in English and once in French. The French debate took place on Oct. 1, followed on Oct. 2 by the English debate.
election (n) a vote among qualified electors. Usually, the winner of an election is the candidate who wins a majority of the votes cast. If a candidate is unopposed, they are declared the winner by acclamation.
Elections Canada (n, proper) the arms-length, non-partisan agency that runs all federal general elections and byelections in Canada, as well as federal referendums from time to time. It receives funding from the Government of Canada but has many measures in place to guard against political interference by government members. For example, it reports directly to Parliament instead of to a particular minister.
electors (n) people allowed to vote in an election. In a federal election, they must be 18 years old and satisfy certain residency requirements.
endorse (v, trans) to declare one's support for a candidate or party, in the hope of convincing others to do the same or voters to cast ballots for the party or candidate. In a federal election campaign, party endorsements commonly come from provincial premiers and territorial leaders, business groups, labour unions and federations, and newspaper editorial pages.
fiscal imbalance (n) the perceived inequality between the amount of revenue the federal government has at its disposal and the amount of money the provincial governments need to deliver essential services. Transfer payments from Ottawa used to channel more funds to the provinces to provide those services before a major deficit-cutting push led by then-finance minister Paul Martin in the 1990s. In recent years, Quebec has been at the forefront when provincial and territorial leaders lobby to either have those transfers increased or shift some taxation powers from the federal to the provincial level.
general election (n) a parliamentary election in all electoral districts, caused when the sitting prime minister or governing party leader requests the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call an election. The Governor General usually complies with this wish. However, in 1926 after a Mackenzie King Liberal minority coalition government collapsed, the Governor General asked Opposition Leader Arthur Meighen to form a government. He was prime minister for four days before his government was defeated by coalition votes. The Governor General then called the election.
gerrymander (verb, transitive) to divide voting districts so that they give an advantage to one political party over another. The word was coined after an 1812 election in Massachusetts, when Gov. Elbridge Gerry was accused of rigging the vote by creating an electoral district favourable to his party. On a map, the controversial district was in the shape of a salamander. A painter named Gilbert Stuart is credited with first noting the peculiar shape. A newspaper satirist in 1813 is said to have combined the governor's name and the amphibian into the phrase "gerrymander." Note: the governor pronounced his name "Gary," and not "Jerry," but modern usage has the word "gerrymander" pronounced "jerrymander."
Gomery report (n, proper) The initial report of a commission of inquiry led by Justice John Gomery, released Nov. 1, 2005. Gomery was appointed to investigate the lack of oversight in how $355 million of taxpayers' money was spent on sponsorship activities during the 1990s, primarily to raise the profile of the federal government in Quebec. About $150 million of that went to advertising firms in the form of commissions and fees, in many cases for little or no work. Some of that money was channeled back to Liberal party organizers in Quebec. Gomery's report found that then- prime minister Jean Chrétien failed to ensure the secretive program was properly run, and that officials like Chuck Guité repeatedly broke rules designed to protect public funds.
Goods and Services Tax, or GST (n) a seven-per-cent federal tax applied to the retail purchase price of most services and consumer goods in Canada. The GST was brought in by then-Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney in the late 1980s. The Opposition Liberals under Chrétien vowed to replace it, but never did once they gained power, leading to a decade of allegations of promise-breaking. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper cut the GST to five per cent.
Grit (n, slang) a member of or supporter of the Canadian Liberal party. An 1840s Upper Canada radical reformist party named the Clear Grits merged in 1870 with reformers in Quebec to form the Liberals. Clear Grit was a complimentary term meaning tenacious or dedicated.
Green Party of Canada (n, proper) the fifth-largest political party to nominate candidates, its goals include environmental sustainability, social justice, gender equity and decentralization of political power. The Greens have never won a federal seat in Canada, but just before the current election was called, independent Blair Wilson joined the party, giving the Greens their first MP.
health care (n) in Canada generally refers to a medical-care system of doctors and hospitals. Often used as shorthand to describe the Canadian medicare system, in which the federal government provides a portion of the funding to each province for provincially administered medical delivery systems. Minimum standards of care are supervised by the federal government. However, individual provincial governments determine the exact treatments to be provided with no fees and determine payment levels and doctors' salaries.
House of Commons (n, proper) the lower chamber of the two houses in Canada's Parliament, compared to the Senate, which is the upper chamber. There are currently 308 seats in the House of Commons, with the elected members who hold those seats representing all areas of the country. (see "Parliament)
husting (n) any place where a candidate meets with the electorate. Scandinavian origin. In Nordic languages the word "thing" refers to a group meeting or deliberative body. The Althing is Iceland's parliament. Old English adopted the word husthing, literally "house meeting," later dropping the second "h." Before written ballots were adopted in Great Britain in 1872, candidates for Parliament would meet with the electorate at a husting and the hand votes would be counted. Modern usage has added an "s" to the end and the word is often seen as 'hustings.'
Independent (n, adj) a candidate who is not running as the approved nominee of a registered political party and can choose to be listed on the ballot as an Independent.
Just Society (n) an election slogan that helped Pierre Trudeau's Liberals win the 1968 federal election. Implicit in it was a belief that government could bring about measures that would reduce social inequalities and lead to a more equitable society.
King-Byng Affair (n) the 1926 constitutional dispute between Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King and Gov. Gen. Lord Byng. In June of 1926, King asked Byng to dissolve Parliament, a move that would lead to a general election, to avoid having his Liberal government voted down when its eight-month-old coalition with the Progressive party fell apart over allegations of Liberal corruption. Byng refused. Instead, he asked the Conservatives under Arthur Meighen to form a government. At the time, the Conservatives actually held 15 more seats in the House of Commons than the Liberals. Meighen's government soon fell as the opposition parties combined to defeat it, a general election was held, and King returned with a majority government. To this day, Canada's Governor General retains the right to grant or refuse a prime minister's request to dissolve Parliament.
left, Left (adj, n) end of the political spectrum espousing humanism, socialism, managed economics. Extreme left could be identified with pure communism. Canadian politics in general is said to be more "left-leaning" than American politics because of the generally accepted socialist principles of health care, employment insurance and other government-administered policies with social impact. As a group, people following this belief are said to be part of the Left. (see also "right")
Liberal (n, proper) short form for Canada's centrist party, the Liberal Party of Canada. Formed in the 1880s with a merger between the Upper Canada Grits and the Quebec reform radicals.
liberal (adj) person with political beliefs leaning toward humanism, socialism, to the centre or left of the political spectrum. (see also "Liberal", "conservative")
majority government (n) a government in which the ruling party elects more members to the House of Commons than all other parties and Independents combined. In the current session, with 308 seats in the House, a party would have to elect 155 members to hold a majority. The term is used assuming that, in case of voting in the House, all government members would vote the same way.
minority government (n) a government in which the ruling party has not elected more members than all other parties and Independents combined. The government holds power either by forging a formal coalition with other parties and/or members, or by informal support from non-government members.
MP (n) abbreviation for member of Parliament. Confusingly, this commonly means a member of the lower house, the House of Commons and not Senators, who are members of the upper house. (see "Parliament")
Member of the House of Commons (n) elected member of the lower house of Parliament, often referred to simply as "the Commons." Members are commonly known as MPs, or members of Parliament.
New Democratic Party (n) social-democratic party on the left of Canadian politics, formed in 1961 after fusion with the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party. The NDP has traditionally had strong roots in prairie agriculture and organized labour unions.
Official Opposition (n, proper): the political party that wins the second-highest number of seats in the House of Commons. The Official Opposition could theoretically be asked by the Governor General to form a government if the government falls on a confidence measure. After the last election, the Conservative Party of Canada formed the Official Opposition. (see "confidence vote")
oppo (n) short form of "opposition research," the practice of a candidate's campaign team doing intensive background research on the past positions, words and actions of an opponent for the purpose of releasing the information to the media in an attempt to portray the opponent as weak, hypocritical, indecisive or downright immoral. (see "war room" and "spin")
PMO (n, parliamentary slang) abbreviation for Prime Minister's Office, meaning the political staff and intimate counsellors to the prime minister.
Parliament (n, collective) the Sovereign and two legislative houses that govern Canada. The houses of Parliament are the elected lower house, the House of Commons and the Senate, whose members are appointed by the prime minister. In common usage, people often refer to the House of Commons as Parliament. There are currently 308 seats in the House of Commons. There are 105 senators. New legislation that requires financial expenditure can be introduced only in the Commons. Bills of a technical, philosophical or political nature but not requiring financial expenditure can be introduced in the Senate. The sovereign's role is represented by the Governor General. (see "MP", "Senate" and "Queen")
parachute (v, trans) to appoint an outsider to a position. In political terms, it usually means to send someone into a riding where he or she does not normally live in order to seek the party's nomination there. (see "star candidate")
party (n, collective) a group of candidates united by allegiance to a common set of principles and leader, for the purpose of winning representation in a legislature. In 1970, the concept of a "registered party" was introduced to federal elections. A registered party receives benefits such as the right to issue receipts for income-tax purposes, the right to buy broadcasting time and the right to have its candidates listed on the ballot as belonging to the party. To be registered, a party must disclose contribution and funding information, and run at least one candidate in an election. Before 2004, parties had to run candidates in at least 50 ridings to be considered for registered status.
platform (n) a policy statement of a political party.
poll (n) 1. a survey or sampling of public opinion. 2. the smallest (e.g. neighbourhood) division of an electoral district, as in "there are six polls reporting final results in this district." 3. a polling station. polling station (n) a location with one or several voting booths. Also colloquially called a "poll." A voter's name is usually on an eligibility list associated with the polling station nearest his/her residence.
Privy Council (n, proper) an esteemed group of advisers to the Governor General, made up of current and former premiers, cabinet ministers, senators, House Speakers and Supreme Court judges. This is essentially an honorary group, consulted for ceremonial state events.
Progressive Conservative Party of Canada (n, proper) a Canadian political party formed in 1942 by the merger of the Progressive and Conservative parties. The Conservatives were the country's first ruling party, with the election of Sir John A. Macdonald in 1867, although in the late1800s, the party was known as the "Liberal-Conservative Party." Considered to be on the political right-of-centre of Canadian politics. Under then-leader Peter MacKay, the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada voted itself out of existence in 2003 as it merged with the Canadian Alliance.
proportional representation (n) a system of government in which a political party's share of seats in the House of Commons is based on its share of the popular vote in the most recent election. Currently, Canada has a "first past the post system," in which parties field candidates in 308 ridings, the candidate with the most votes in each riding becomes its member of Parliament and the party with the highest number of MPs forms the government. On the provincial level, British Columbians voted last May on a type of proportional representation called the "single transferable vote" system, but the measure failed to attract enough ballots and thus failed to pass. (see "minority government")
pundit (n) a commentator who makes pronouncements about political affairs. Often used ironically or sarcastically. From Sanskrit "pandit," an expert in religion, politics and culture.
Queen (n, proper) Canada's official head of state, because this country is officially a constitutional monarchy. In her role as sovereign, Elizabeth II performs only ceremonial duties, which are usually delegated to her representative in Canada, the non-partisan and appointed Governor General. Former journalist Michaelle Jean is Canada's current Governor General.
riding (n) a Canadian term for an electoral district. There are 308 electoral districts or ridings. Origin is Scandinavian and Old English. There are two possible histories of the phrase; both traced to Yorkshire in England. One history has the old Norse word "triding" meaning one-third, which evolved into riding over time. Yorkshire was once divided into three administrative divisions or ridings. Also, the Yorkshire custom of "Riding the Stang" meant a person to be held up for public ridicule (especially for wife-beating) was placed on a pole or scaffold ("stang") and carried around to be insulted and jeered. The pejorative term "riding" came to mean rural, unsophisticated, countryside.
Rideau Hall (n, proper) since 1867, the official residence of the Governor General. Visiting kings, queens and presidents stay at this 32-hectare estate in Ottawa. When the prime minister visits the Governor General to request the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of a general election, he or she is said to be "paying a visit to Rideau Hall."
right, Right (adj, n) end of the political spectrum espousing smaller government, conservative social policy, open economics. Extreme right could be identified with pure fascism. Canadian politics in general is said to be more "left-leaning" than American politics because of the generally accepted socialist principles of health care and employment insurance. People on Canada's Right are more centrist than the Right in many other countries. (see also "left")
same-sex marriage (n) the marriage of two gay men or two lesbian women, thousands of which have been performed in Canada over the past few years after a series of court decisions striking down the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Same-sex marriage has been a contentious issue in the last two federal election campaigns. Most Conservatives favour the traditional definition of marriage and object to the Liberals bringing in same-sex marriage legislation that applies across the country. Many Liberal MPs voted against their own party to side with the Conservatives when a free vote was held earlier this year (Liberal cabinet ministers were told they had to support the legislation). The NDP and Bloc Quebecois joined the Liberals in voting to support the right of same-sex couples to wed. Paul Martin says he will stand up for same-sex marriage because it is a question of charter rights, but Stephen Harper has promised to hold another free vote on the issue if he becomes prime minister.
Senate (n, proper) the unelected upper chamber of Canada's Parliament, made up of 105 Senators who have been appointed to their jobs by past and present prime ministers and will hold their positions until death or age 75, whichever comes first. (see "Parliament")
social safety net (n, collective) term used to describe government medical, legal, insurance and assistance programs that supplement income or employment in order to maintain a pre-defined standard of living or care.
sovereignty (n) the right to autonomy or self-government, as in the Bloc Quebecois's push for Quebec sovereignty; or the absolute and independent authority of a nation, usually followed by "over," as in Canada's sovereignty over its Arctic region.
spin (n) according to William Safire's New Political Dictionary, it is "the deliberate shading of news perception; the attempted control of political reaction." (see "war room" and "oppo")
star candidate (n) a famous or prominent person who agrees to run for a party on the assumption that name recognition and a good reputation will be a benefit in an election campaign. Star candidates can live in the ridings where they are nominated, or they can be parachuted into a different riding where the party is seeking to build strength, if their home riding is already represented by a member of the same party who does not want to vacate the seat. (see "parachute")
Stornoway (n, proper) the official residence of the leader of the Opposition. Built in 1914 by an Ottawa grocer. Given the name Stornoway by its next residents, the Perley Robertsons, after their ancestral home in Scotland. During the Second World War, it was home to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and her daughters, one of whom was born in Ottawa. The house became a residence for the official leader of the Opposition in 1950.
strategic voting (n) what happens when voters cast ballots for a candidate or party that is not their first choice in order to prevent a victory by a third candidate or party that is even less acceptable to them.
third-party spending (n) the amount of money that can be spent by a third party to buy advertising that supports or opposes a candidate, party or referendum position during a federal campaign. Elections Canada defines a third party as "a person or group, other than a candidate, registered party or electoral district association of a registered party," and requires that they be registered if they spend $500 or more in election advertising expenses. Current election law in Canada says third-party spending can amount to no more than $3,000 in any one riding, and no more than $150,000 across Canada.
Tory (n, slang) a person who supports or is a member of the Progressive Conservative party. Origin is thought to be old Irish for "outlaw" or "bandit." Term later applied to political movement that supported the claims of Catholic James II to the throne. In following years, Tories backed the established government political and religious regime. Eventually, the Tory party became the Conservative Party in England and the name was also used in Canada to refer to Progressive Conservative politicians.
two-tier (adj) term to describe social services offered in parallel, where one level or tier of something like health care is available to all people for free (or in return for taxation) and the other is available on an individual payment of extra fees. Often used to imply twin systems where similar services are offered both by government and business. Not to be confused with contracting out or privatization, where government-run facilities are taken over by private business but the services continue to be offered free to consumers. Sometimes used to describe the U.S. health-care system, where poorer people use the free publicly funded hospitals and others pay fees for service at privately run corporate hospitals. Considered to be the political opposite of universality. Many Canadian provinces already have a tiered health-care system in that some services (hospital, medical) are generally free to residents, and others (optometry, dental, prescription drugs) are not.
Twenty-Four Sussex (n, slang) the street address, 24 Sussex Drive, of the prime minister's official residence in Ottawa. Built in 1866 by mill owner and member of Parliament Joseph Merrill Currier as a wedding gift for his bride, Hannah. He called the home "Gorffwysfa," a Welsh word for place of peace. The home became the official residence for the prime minister in 1951.
universality (adj) free access for all people to government services or programs, regardless of their income levels or ability to pay. Considered incompatible with "Two-Tier."
voters (n) synonym for electors, those allowed by law to vote. Interest in an election is usually measured by "voter turnout," a percentage of the number of eligible voters who actually took the time to go vote. Voter turnout in the last Canadian election, in Jan. 2006, was 64.7 per cent.
war room (n, slang) loose term for the team of strategists running a campaign on behalf of a candidate or party, treating opponents as enemies, opposition speeches as ammunition, its own political spin as a weapon and opposition platforms as targets to be shot down. The reigning philosophy of most party war rooms seems to be, "All's fair in love, war and politics." (see "spin" and "oppo")
wedge issue (n) a social or political issue that has the potential to be used by one party to split an opponent's base of support, splitting that support by convincing some supporters to vote for another party.
writ (n) The document signed by the chief electoral officer instructing the returning officer in an electoral district to conduct an election (or referendum) on a specific date. The phrase "dropping the writ" has come to mean the prime minister deciding that the timing is right for an election, visiting the Governor General to request that Parliament be dissolved and arranging for an election date to be set no sooner than 36 days in the future. After the election, the returning officer signs the writ containing the voting result and returns it to the chief electoral officer.
X (n) traditional mark placed by elector on a paper ballot to indicate the voter's choice among the listed candidates.
youth vote (n): participation in the electoral process by young Canadians aged 18 to 25. Leading up to the last election, youth voter turnout was at an unprecedented low after dropping throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. Only 25 per cent of eligible young voters cast a ballot in the 2000 general election, but concerted efforts by Elections Canada and other concerned groups such as Student Vote helped increase that rate to 38 per cent for the 2004 election.
Zed (n, proper) The last name of Saint John MP Paul Zed, who provides us with the only "Z" word we could think of for the purposes of finishing this dictionary.
Sources and Links (Links will open a new window):
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|Updated: Nov. 7, 2008, 5:00 PM EST|
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