Glossary of Parliamentary Terms

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Act

A bill which has been given first, second and third reading by the Legislature. It becomes law upon receiving the signature of the Lieutenant Governor signifying Royal Assent.

Adjournment

The period between the termination of a meeting of the House and the start of the next meeting. An interruption in the course of the same session.

Amendment

A proposal by a member that seeks to modify a motion, or section of a bill, in order to increase its acceptability or to present a different proposal. All amendments are in the form of a motion altering the text of the original motion.

Backbencher

A "private member" who is not a minister, parliamentary assistant or leading member of the opposition. Historically, he or she occupied a back bench in the Legislative Chamber.

Ballot

A paper for voting in an election which has the names of candidates running. Also refers to item numbers for Private Members Business; and to sequential votes for election of the Speaker.

Bicameral

A legislative body with two houses. For example, the Parliament of Canada has an upper and lower house - the Senate and the House of Commons.

Bill

A proposed law. Bills must go through three readings, usually a committee process and Royal Assent before they become law.

Budget

The government's estimates on how much their programs will cost and where they will get the money to pay for them.

By-election

Elections held between general elections to replace members who have died or have resigned from the Legislative Assembly.

Cabinet

This governing body is made up of the Ministers of government departments and the Premier. This body advises the Premier. The ministers are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor on the recommendation of the Premier and are usually chosen from elected members of the Party which forms the government. The cabinet formulates government policies and is responsible for the administration of all the ministries of government. Cabinet meets regularly to set the business it will propose to the legislature.

Cabinet Minister

A member of the cabinet or executive council. Cabinet ministers introduce and debate bills. They also administer specific government departments and formulate government policy.

Candidate

A person chosen to represent apolitical party for a certain electoral district or a person who runs as an independent in an election; a person who stands for election.

Canonical

Laws relating to the clergy.

Caucus

All the elected members from one party; private meeting of the parliamentary members of a party.

Chamber

The room in the Legislative Building at Queen's Park where the Legislative Assembly meets for its business.

Citizen

From the Latin word civitas meaning city. A citizen is an inhabitant of a province or country who has certain rights and responsibilities.

Clerk

Assists the Speaker and is the principal officer of the House. The Clerk is also the administrative director of the Office of the Legislative Assembly. The reporting relationship between the Clerk and the Speaker is similar to the relationship between a deputy minister and a minister. The Clerk, the Deputy Clerk, and the Clerks-at-the-Table provide procedural advice to the Speaker and to the members. The Clerk is responsible for compiling all official documents of the House.

Closure

The procedure by which a debate may be terminated by a majority decision of the house, even though all members wishing to speak may not have had the opportunity to do so.

Committee of the Whole House

A committee consisting of all members of the house which meets in the Chamber. The Speaker vacates the chair and the Deputy Speaker takes over as chair of the committee.

Confederation

The forming of a nation by the union of different colonies or provinces. A confederation is united by a common government or a common set of laws. The responsibilities of governing are split between the national, or federal, level and the provincial level. There is also a municipal level of government. The colonies or provinces also give up some of their powers and responsibilities to the national government. In Canada, four provinces originally united into a confederation in 1867 - Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Constituency

Electoral boundaries defined by population and rural or urban location. There are 103 constituencies in Ontario (sometimes referred to informally as "ridings") with a member elected from each one. See electoral district.

Constitution

A document which sets out basic principles and laws of a nation, state or social group. These principles and laws determine the powers and duties of a government and guarantee certain rights to the people under it.

Constitutional Monarchy

A system of government in which the supreme law is the nation's constitution but the head of state is the monarch. In Canada, the head of state is the Queen represented by the Governor General and in the provinces by the Lieutenant Governor.

Democracy

Comes form the Greek words 'demos" meaning people and 'kratos" meaning strength. This literally means government by the people and the rule of the majority. It is a system of government where the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised indirectly through their elected representatives.

Dissolution

Means by which the parliament comes to an end. The Lieutenant Governor dissolves the legislature on the Premier's request. An election always follows dissolution.

Division

The taking of recorded votes in the house or one of its committees. In the house, members rise as their names are called, and they vote for or against a motion. This vote is recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.

Election

This is the process where citizens choose a person to act as their representative.

Elections Ontario

The office that administers elections in Ontario by making sure that voting laws are adhered to fairly.

Electoral Boundaries Commission

A body, independent from the government, which makes recommendations to the Ontario legislature to determine if more seats should be added or if riding boundaries should be changed.

Electoral District

A geographical area that a member represents. See constituency.

Enumeration

The process of the compilation of the list of all eligible voters.

Estimates

The proposed expenditures for each government department, agency, board and commission.

Executive Council

Also called the cabinet. Composed of the Premier and the ministers who exercise executive power.

Family Compact

A ruling group in Canada during the early 1800s made up of the wealthier and exclusive section of society, including landowners. This group was opposed to the system of responsible government or government which derives its power from the people.

Filibustering

The use of tactics to delay passage of a bill. For instance, using long speeches and comments to consume time.

First-past-the-post System

This is also called the plurality system, where the candidate who wins the most votes in each constituency is the winner, regardless if this is less than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

Franchise:

The right or privilege granted to a citizen to vote in a (parliamentary) election.

Full Manhood Suffrage

See "Universal" Suffrage.

Gerrymandering

A practice that could be termed "undemocratic", where the party in power draws electoral or constituency boundaries to its advantage.

Government

The political party with the greatest number of elected members; refers to the government body of a province, state or county, which makes and administers laws.

Governor General

The Queen's representative in Canada. This person is responsible to giving Royal Assent to all federal bills to become federal law.

Hansard

The verbatim record of daily proceedings of the house and its committees.

House

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario, consisting of 107 members, including the Speaker. Also refers to the Legislative Chamber, the room where the Legislative Assembly meets.

House of Commons

The legislative body of Canada which proposes, debates and passes laws.

House Leader

Each party has one member who is appointed to this position. The House Leader is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the party in the legislature. The House Leader for the governing party is always a member of cabinet and assists in managing the affairs of the legislature. The Government House Leader is responsible for announcing the daily order of house business. All House Leaders meet weekly to plan the business of the legislature.

Ideology

This is a set of political and economic principals and beliefs about society.

Independent Member

A member of provincial parliament who does not belong to any political party.

Judiciary

The branch of government which interprets and enforces laws. The judiciary is composed of the courts, the judges and chief justices and protects the right of citizens from both the government and fellow citizens.

Leader of the Official Opposition

The leader of the political party with the second largest number of seats in the legislative assembly.

Legislation

Law - binding, enforceable rules of conduct that society creates by legislation, court decisions and custom.

Legislative Assembly

The governing body which debates and makes laws. It is sometimes referred to as the legislature, or the house.

Legislature

See parliament, house, legislative assembly.

Lieutenant Governor

The person who is the provincial representative of the Queen and the ceremonial head of state. This person is appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. The Lieutenant Governor opens, suspends and dissolves the Legislative Assembly and gives or withholds Royal assent to bills passed by the Legislative Assembly.

Mace

The ceremonial staff used in parliament which symbolises the authority of the Speaker to oversee the legislature. The mace is carried into the Chamber each day at the beginning of a sitting.

Magna Carta

A charter signed by King John of England in 1215. It attached the absolute powers of the monarch and guaranteed fundamental rights and privileges to the people. The provisions of the Magna Carta were; A fair trial for all; preservation of ancient liberties; fundamental principles of government; the requirement of the King (monarch) to uphold laws and the prohibition of the monarch from making new laws without consulting the Great Council. This charter was significant in that it represented the beginning of parliamentary democracy as we know it, in that the monarch could not make laws without consulting others.

Majority Government

When the total number of government seats in the house exceeds the total number of opposition seats.

Member of Provincial Parliament

An individual, elected by the people, in a particular electoral district or constituency to represent them in the provincial parliament.

Ministers

These people are chosen by the Premier, usually from members of a governing party; they are responsible for government departments and the administration of these departments. They also defend their proposed legislation (bills). See also cabinet ministers.

Minority Government

When the total number of opposition seats in the house exceeds the total number of government seats.

Motion

A proposal made by a member, in order to elicit a decision from the house. The house will express its decision by either agreeing, disagreeing or amending a motion.

Non-Confidence Vote

An opposition member may call for a vote of non-confidence against the government. If this vote passes, the government is said to have lost the confidence of the house and usually resigns.

Non-Partisan

In reference to the Speaker, it means that the person in this position does not let personal or political opinions influence the way the job is done. The Speaker must treat all members equally and fairly, with no regard to political affiliation.

Notice of Enumeration

A card which gives details about how to register to vote in an election.

Official Opposition

The party with the second highest number of members elected. It is their job to study government legislation, politics and programs and offer alternatives.

Order-in-Council

Decree made by the Lieutenant Governor issued with the advice of the Executive Council.

Orders of the Day

Part of the sitting of the house in which the order, or agenda, of legislative business for that day is presented.

Orders and Notices

Published through the Clerk's office, this publication lists bills, government business, written questions, private members' business, and committee information on a daily basis for each sitting. This publication lists everything available to the house for consideration. It may also be called the Order Paper.

Parliament

The legislature, or legislative assembly. It is also the period from the opening of the first session immediately following a general election to the end of a government's term and the calling of another election. each parliament consists of one or more sessions.

Parliamentary Privilege

Rights and immunities which belong to the assembly, the members and others essential to the operation of the assembly, allowing those involved in the parliamentary process to fulfil their duties without obstruction or fear or prosecution. Members cannot be sued or prosecuted for what they say during legislative proceedings.

Petition

A document that requests that the government or legislature take some action or change its position on some question of public policy.

Plurality System

Candidate who wins the most votes in each constituency is the winner, regardless if this is less than 50 per cent of the votes cast.

Point of Order

Members may draw to the attention of the Chair or Speaker an alleged breach of parliamentary rules through a point of order. The Speaker rules on these points and such rulings are not debatable or subject to appeal.

Political Party

Group of individual united by common political and economic beliefs about society which interacts with communities, interest groups and individuals.

Politics

From the Greek word 'politikos' meaning the art or science of government; concerned with winning and holding control over a government.

Precedent

A past ruling or practice that sets an example for similar action in the future; convention established by long practice.

Premier

After a provincial election, the leader of the party with the greatest number of elected candidates heads the provincial government as Premier.

Prime Minister

After the federal election, the leader of the party with the greatest number of elected candidates becomes the Prime Minister.

Private Bill

A bill which confers particular powers, benefits or exemptions from general law, on a specific person or body of persons, including individuals, local authorities, and statutory and private corporation.

Private Members' Bill

A public bill which is introduced by a private member instead of by the government.

Proclamation

An official public announcement; refers to the date a law comes into force set by cabinet and proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor-in-Council.

Prorogation

The act by which the Lieutenant Governor brings a session of the Legislative Assembly to an end. This is different from dissolution which terminates a parliament. Prorogation is more like the suspension of parliament. Unfinished business dies, unless carried over to the next session by a motion that it remain on the order paper in the next session.

Public Bill

A bill which relates to matters of public policy. It usually has a general application over the entire province.

Question Period

The period during a parliamentary day which lasts for 60 minutes. The opposition and government members ask questions about government activity.

Readings

The stages through which a bill passes; that is: first reading, second reading and third reading. A bill is introduced during first reading and debated during the second and third readings.

Recess

The period between prorogation and the day on which the house meets in a new session. It may also refer to any temporary interruption in a meeting of the house or committee, for example, a lunch break on Thursdays; or a recess in proceedings for grave disorder.

Responsible Government

A concept which developed as early as the 13th century in Britain, with the idea that there would be representatives who would have to report to the people in their area. Today, this term refers to the idea that the government needs the approval of a majority in the assembly and the formal head of state (Governor General, Lieutenant Governor) must act under the advice of ministers who are members of the legislature.

Riding

See constituency, electoroal district.

Routine Motions

Motions which do not require notice, usually dealing with the technical and administrative procedures of the House.

Royal Assent

The Lieutenant Governor gives approval to a bill on behalf of the Queen by signing the bill.

Select Committee

Select committees are set up specifically to study certain bills or issues and according to the Standing Orders, consists of not more than 11 members from all parties with representation reflecting the current standing in the house. In some cases, the committee must examine material by a specific date and then report its conclusion to the legislature. After its final report, the committee is dissolved.

Senate

The upper house of the federal parliament of Canada. The federal parliament has a bicameral system consisting of an upper house called the Senate and a lower house, called the House of Commons. The Senate approves laws passed by the lower house (House of Commons) and may pass legislation that is not monetary in nature. The Senate consists of non-elected members who are appointed by the Prime Minister.

Sergeant at Arms

Custodian of the mace which symbolizes the authority of the Speaker in the house. The Sergeant at Arms is also responsible for the furniture, fittings and security in the house and in the Legislative Building and grounds.

Session

A series of meetings in the legislature making up a parliament. Sessions may be divided into spring and fall periods called sittings.

Shadow Cabinet

A collective term for the critics in each of the opposition parties, particularly those in the official opposition, who might comprise the cabinet should the party come to power. These critics scrutinize the programs and policies of the government department to which they are assigned.

Speaker

The member who is elected by all the members of the legislature to preside over all meetings of the house in a fair and impartial manner. The Speaker upholds all the rules of procedure and ensures that the business of the house is carried out in an orderly manner.

Speaker's Procession

Each meeting of the house begins with the entrance of the Speaker. The Sergeant at Arms enters the Legislative Chamber in front of the Speaker, carrying the mace, the symbol of the Speaker's authority. The Speaker is followed by the Clerk, Clerks Assistant and usually two pages. This is called the Speaker's procession.

Speech from the Throne

The speech delivered by the Lieutenant Governor for each new session of parliament. This speech outlines the government's plans and initiatives for the session.

Standing Committee

A committee which exists for the duration of a parliamentary session. This committee examines and reports on the general conduct of activities by government departments and agencies and reports on matters referred to it by the house, including proposed legislation.

Standing Orders

The rules of procedure in the house.

Statements by the Ministry and Responses

Period of the parliamentary day where ministers may make short statements about government policy, ministerial programs and other actions which the house should be informed about.

Treaty of Paris

The document which was signed ending a four-year war between England and France in the mid-1700s. The Treaty of Paris gave Britain responsibility for all the territories of New France, which included the lands we now know as Ontario and Quebec.

Unicameral

Has only one house of parliament.

"Universal" Suffrage

The extension of voting privileges (also known as "the franchise") to adult citizens, regardless of race, sex, belief, or social status. In 1867, upon entering Confederation, Ontario had a franchise that limited voting to males over the age of 21 who owned or earned a specific amount of property or income (known as restricted "manhood suffrage"). In 1888, during the Premiership of Oliver Mowat, the Legislative Assembly passed legislation creating "full manhood suffrage", extending the franchise to all resident males over the age of 21. "Universal" suffrage was achieved in Ontario in 1917 with the institution of full "women's suffrage," extending the franchise to resident females over the age of 21.

Warrants

When issued, it requires the attendance of witnesses or documents before legislative committees. Warrants are also issued to call elections.

Whip

A member of each party who ensures the presence of party members in the legislature or at committee meetings to maintain adequate representation should a vote be held. Also arranges the business of his or her party in the house and informs party members of forthcoming business.

Women's Suffrage

See "Universal" Suffrage.

Writs of Election

Document which sets an election process prepared by the Chief Elections Officer.

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