Glossary

of parliamentary terms

for younger students

backbencher
A Member of Parliament who is not a minister and does not sit on the front benches reserved for Cabinet Ministers or for opposition party officials.
bill
A suggestion for a law that Parliament is asked to consider.
budget
The yearly plan for where the Government is going to get money and how it will spend money.
Cabinet
The group of Ministers who work closely with the Prime Minister.
> See Cabinet Minister
Cabinet Minister
A Member of Parliament who is usually head of a government department. The Leader of the Government in the Senate is usually a member of Cabinet.
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
A section of the Canadian constitution that ensures that all people in Canada are guaranteed certain basic rights and freedoms.
capital
The city where Parliament is located and the government carries out its business. The capital city of Canada is Ottawa. Each province and territory also has a capital city.
caucus
A group of Senators and Members of Parliament from the same political party.
ceremony
A formal act that follows special rules or traditions.
Chamber
The meeting room in which Senators or Members of Parliament meet to discuss and to vote. There is one meeting room for Senators and one for Members of Parliament.
> See Senate, House of Commons
citizen
A Canadian citizen is a person who was born in Canada or who moved here and met the rules for becoming a Canadian.
Clerk of the House of Commons
The principal person in the Chamber who advises the Speaker, Members of Parliament and the other clerks about rules in the House of Commons.
Clerk of the Senate
The principal person in the Chamber who advises the Speaker, the Senators and the other clerks about rules in the Senate.
coalition
The joining together of two or more political parties to form a Government or an opposition.
committee
A group of Senators, Members of Parliament or both selected to study a specific subject or bill and write a report about it.
Confederation
The agreement made in 1867 by four provinces (Ontario, Qu├ębec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia) to join together, forming the nation of Canada, and create a federal Parliament. Other provinces and territories joined at later dates.
constituency
The area in Canada that a Member of Parliament represents in the House of Commons (also known as a riding or electoral district).
constituent
A person living in an area represented by a Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.
Constitution
The set of rules that a country like Canada follows to work well as a nation.
debate
A discussion of any subject by Senators or Members of Parliament.
democracy
A country that is governed by people who are elected by its citizens to make decisions on their behalf.
elect
To pick one person from a group of several people by voting. The person with the most votes is elected.
election
The selection of a person or government by voting. In Canada, elections for Members of Parliament must be held at least every five years.
electoral district
Another word used for constituency or riding.
federal government
The Government of Canada that acts and speaks for the whole country.
governing party
The political party that forms the government because it had more of its members elected to the Chamber by the people than any other political party.
Government
The ruling authority running the business of the country.
Government House Leader
The Senator or Member of Parliament responsible for managing the Government's business in the Senate or the House of Commons. This person is usually a member of the Cabinet.
Governor General
The representative in Canada of the monarch (Queen or King), who acts on the monarch's behalf with the advice of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Hansard
The printed record of what Members of Parliament said in the House of Commons.
Head of Government
The Prime Minister is the Head of Government and looks after the business of the country.
Head of State
The monarch (Queen or King) is the Head of State of Canada. The Governor General represents the monarch in Canada.
House of Commons
The elected Members of Parliament together form the House of Commons. This term also refers to the Chamber where they meet regularly.
Independent (Senator or Member of Parliament)
A member of the Senate or House of Commons who does not belong to a political party.
issue
A subject for debate or discussion.
law
A rule for all Canadians made by the Senators and Members of Parliament through discussion and voting.
Leader of the Official Opposition - House of Commons
The leader of the political party that had the second most MPs elected in the election. The members of this party do not always agree with the ideas of the governing party and often question them about their decisions.
Leader of the Opposition - Senate
The leader of the party which holds the largest number of seats in the opposition.
local government
The council that manages the business of a municipality (village, town or city). The council members are elected by the people living in that area.
Lower House
Another name for the House of Commons.
mace
A large, heavy and richly ornamented staff that represents the power and authority of Parliament.
  • Senate
    When the Speaker takes the Chair, the Mace Bearer places the Mace on the Table to signify that the Senate is in session.
  • House of Commons
    When the Speaker enters the Chamber on a working day, the Sergeant-at-Arms places the mace on the Table in front of the Members of Parliament in the House of Commons.
majority government
When the governing party has more than half of the total number of Members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons.
mayor
The head of a municipality (village, town or city).
media
The radio, television, Internet, magazines and newspapers and the journalists who work for them.
Member of Parliament (MP)
A person elected to the House of Commons. There are 338 Members of Parliament representing all of the areas of Canada in the House of Commons.
Minister
> See Cabinet Minister
minority government
When the governing party has less than half of the total number of Members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons. In order to remain the government, it has to cooperate with the opposition Members.
monarch
A Queen or King. The British monarch is also the monarch of Canada.
municipal government
> See local government
official languages
By law, English and French are the official languages of Canada. Parliament does all its work in both English and French.
Official Opposition
The political party that had the second most Members of Parliament elected in the election.
page
University students working part-time in either the Senate or House of Commons to assist parliamentarians during sittings by distributing documents and relaying messages.
Parliament
The organization that makes the laws that apply across Canada. It is made up of the Governor General as the Queen's representative, the Senate and the House of Commons.
Parliament Hill
The site of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
parliamentarian
A Senator or a Member of Parliament (MP).
Peace Tower
A tall bell tower located in the centre of the Parliament Buildings, named to honour the service and sacrifice of Canadians in World War I. The tower is 92 metres high.
petition
A letter, often signed by many people, making a specific request to Parliament.
political party
A group of people who have the same beliefs about how the country should be run.
poll
A survey that asks questions to find out what people think on a certain topic.
Prime Minister
The Head of Government and leader of the governing party. The Prime Minister is also a Member of Parliament and represents a constituency.
provincial or territorial government
Every province and territory in Canada has a legislature that makes laws for the people living in that province or territory. This legislature is located in the capital city of the province or territory.
Queen
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada.
> See monarch
Question Period
  • Senate
    A daily 30-minute period during which oral questions may be addressed to the Leader of the Government, other ministers and committee chairs.
  • House of Commons
    A time set aside every day in the House of Commons when Members of Parliament can ask Cabinet Ministers questions about their projects.
reading (of a bill)
A word used for the stages where a bill is debated in Parliament before it is passed to become law.
Red Chamber
Another name for the Senate.
representative
A Senator or Member of Parliament who makes decisions on behalf of Canadians.
riding
Another word for constituency or electoral district.
Royal Assent
The Governor General approves a bill passed by Parliament to make it law. Sometimes a Royal Assent ceremony takes place in the Senate Chamber. Other times, the bill is signed at Rideau Hall, where the Governor General lives.
Senate
Also known as the Upper House of Parliament. This term also refers to the room where Senators meet regularly.
Senator
A member of the Senate in Canada. The Senate has 105 Senators to represent regions of Canada. Senators are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.
Sergeant-at-Arms
The person who carries the mace during the Speaker's Parade into the House of Commons Chamber and also ensures that the Members of Parliament are safe.
Speaker of the House of Commons
The Member of Parliament who is elected by the other Members of Parliament to run their meetings and to keep order in the House of Commons.
Speaker of the Senate
The Senator who is appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister to run their meetings and to keep order in the Senate.
Speaker's Parade
  • Senate
    When the Speaker of the Senate, the Clerk of the Senate, the Usher of the Black Rod, the Mace Bearer and other officials walk formally from the Speaker's Chambers to the Senate before the opening of a sitting..
  • House of Commons
    When the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Sergeant-at-Arms with the Mace, the Clerk of the House and other officials walk formally from the Speaker's Office to the House of Commons before the opening of a sitting.
Speech from the Throne
The speech given by the Governor General at the start of a new session of Parliament, describing what the government plans to do.
territorial government
> See provincial or territorial government
throne
A special chair in the Senate Chamber reserved for the use of the monarch or the Governor General.
tradition
Something that is done a certain way because it is the way it has been done for many years.
Upper House
Another name for the Senate.
Usher of the Black Rod
An officer of the Senate who is sent to summon members of the House of Commons to the Senate Chamber for ceremonies such as the Throne Speech and Royal Assent. The Usher uses the black rod to knock on the door of the House of Commons Chamber.
vote
(1) The way citizens choose a representative in an election.
(2) The process Senators and Members of Parliament use to make a decision.