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Political Glossary

Advance Poll : A poll taken in advance of polling day.

Backbencher : A Member of Parliament or of the Legislative Assembly who does not hold a Cabinet position.

Bicameral : A two-House system of government.  Canada' s Parliament is bicameral; it has a House of Commons and a Senate.

Bill: A proposed law.  To become law, a Bill must pass three readings and committee study and receive Royal Assent.

Budget : The government's estimated income and expenses for a fiscal year.  Alberta's fiscal year is from April 1 to March 31.

Bylaw : A law made by a municipal government.

Cabinet (Executive Council): The heads of government departments.  The Premier is the head of the cabinet and chooses cabinet ministers from among elected members of his or her party.

Cabinet Minister : A member of the cabinet; the head of a government department.  The Premier chooses cabinet ministers and the Lieutenant Governor swears them in.

Caucus : All of the elected members from one party; a private meeting of this group.

Chamber : The room where the Legislative Assembly holds its sittings.

Civil Servants :   People who work for government departments or agencies.

Confederation : The union of the British North American colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Canada (now known as Quebec and Ontario).  Other provinces were later added to this union, Alberta joining in 1905.

Constituency (Riding):   A voting district.  In Alberta there are 83 constituencies; each elects one Member of the Legislative Assembly.

Constitution :   The supreme law of a country.  The Canadian Constitution is made up of the British North America Act 1867 (now called the Constitution Act 1867) and its amendments, all the Acts and orders which gave Canada new territories and created its provinces, the Constitution Act 1982, plus unwritten customs called conventions.

Constitutional Monarchy : A system of government in which the supreme law is the nation's Constitution but the head of state is a monarch (in Canada, represented by  the Governor General federally and the Lieutenant Governor provincially).

Department : A cabinet minister's area of responsibility, or portfolio, including the people who work for it.  Examples are the Department of Health and Department of Labour.

Dissolution : The means by which a Legislature comes to an end.  The Lieutenant Governor dissolves the Legislature on the Premier's request.  An election always follows dissolution.

Election :   A process by which the citizens of the province choose the people they wish to represent them in the Legislative Assembly.  Under the Constitution elections must be held at least once every five years.

Federation :   A system of government that has two levels which share responsibilities.  Typically, the national level of government looks after national concerns (currency, defense, monetary policy, and so on) while the provincial or state level looks after regional concerns (health, education and so on).  Examples of federations include Canada, Australia and the United States.

Government :   In the parliamentary sense, the cabinet (Executive Council), headed by the Premier.  To remain in office, the government must have the support of a majority of members in the Assembly. 

Hansard : The official, verbatim record of parliamentary debates and proceedings.

House : The Legislative Assembly; also used to mean the Chamber.

Incumbent : A member of a political party that is currently holding office.

Leader of the Opposition : The leader of the political party holding the second largest number of seats in the Assembly.

Legislative Assembly : A lawmaking body of elected representatives; sometimes called the House.

Legislature : The form of government Canada's Constitution prescribes for the provinces; consists of the Lieutenant Governor (head of state and representing the monarch in the provinces) and the Legislative Assembly (the elected representatives).  Each election results in a new Legislature.

Lieutenant Governor : The provincial representative of the monarch and the (largely ceremonial) head of state.  The Prime Minister appoints the Lieutenant Governor to a five-year term and the federal government pays the salary.

Mace : The ceremonial staff that symbolizes the authority of the Legislature to make laws on behalf of the people.

Majority Government : When the governing party holds more seats than all other parties combined.

Minority Government : When the governing party holds fewer than half the seats in the House.

MLA : Member of the Legislative Assembly.  Each MLA is elected to represent a constituency and must represent everyone in that constituency.

Non-Partisan : A person who does not support  a cause or political party over other causes and parties.

Official Opposition : The party having the second largest number of seats in the Assembly.  Known officially as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

Opposition : MLAs belonging to parties other than the governing party.  In the Chamber, opposition MLAs sit across from the cabinet.  The role of the opposition is to criticize government policies, suggest alternatives, and make sure the public is aware of what the government is doing or plans to do.

Parliamentary Procedure : The unwritten traditions and written rules for conducting the Assembly's business. The unwritten traditions have been handed down in Britain and Canada for hundreds of years and are the foundation for the written rules, which each individual Assembly writes.

Parliamentary System of Government : A system of government in which the cabinet is appointed from among elected members of an Assembly.  The cabinet holds power, but for it to remain in power, its major decisions must be supported by a majority in the Assembly.

Partisan : A person who supports a political party or cause over other parties and causes.

Political Party : A group of people who hold similar political aims and opinions who have organized, usually to contest elections so that they might form a government.  The Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals are examples of political parties in Alberta.

Polling Place : A place where one or more polling stations are provided for the purpose of voting at an election.

Polling Station : A place within the polling place where an elector casts his or her vote.

Premier : The leader of the political party electing the most members of the Legislative Assembly (in the case of a majority government) or having the support of a majority in the Assembly.

Private Member : Any MLA who is not a cabinet minister.

Referendum : When the government allows the electorate to vote directly on an issue of public importance.

Responsible Government :   A government (cabinet) responsible to the representatives of the people (Members of the Legislative Assembly).  The government needs the confidence of the Assembly to stay in power.

Royal Assent : A ceremony in which the monarch's representative, the Lieutenant Governor at the provincial level, gives final approval to a bill.

Sergeant-at-Arms : Legislative Assembly officer in charge of the security for the Assembly, the MLAs, and visitors to the Chamber.  The Sergeant-at-Arms also has custody of the Mace.

Speech from the Throne : The speech delivered by the Lieutenant Governor which opens each new session and outlines the government's plans for the session.

Statute : A law.  A Bill is called a statute once it receives Royal Assent.

Unicameral : Having only one legislative Chamber.  Each of Canada's provincial legislatures is unicameral.


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