Glossary of Political Terms

Legislative committees appointed for special, temporary purposes, such as to investigate a problem before the government prepares legislation on the subject.

The organized apparatus of the state for the preparation and implementation of legislation and policies, also called bureaucracy.

Controlling the focus of attention by establishing the issues for public discussion.

Order resulting from mutual coordination in the absence of a higher authority.

A stateless society that allows total individual freedom.

Spontaneously formed interest group with concern over a specific issue.

A form of government in which a minority rules under the law.

Formally organized group which articulates the interests of its members over long periods of time.

A federal system of government in which powers are unevenly divided between provinces, i.e. some provinces have greater responsibilities or more autonomy than others.

A danger in democratic politics in which state power may be "sold" to the highest bidding groups.

The official of Parliament whose staff audit the expenditures of government departments and who provides an annual report on instances of funds being unlawfully or unwisely spent.

A system of government in which leaders are not subjected to the test of free elections.

A form of power based on consensus regarding the right to issue commands and make decisions.

Members of Parliament on the government side who sit on the backbenches and are not in cabinet, or those similarly distant from shadow cabinet posts in opposition parties.

A state's running account of economic transactions (exports and imports) with the rest of the world.

The distribution of power in a system such that no one state may overwhelm others.

The active prevention of any one state becoming too strong by the major powers in the system.

The introduction of more empirical analysis into the study of government and politics.

A system of government in which the legislature is divided into two chambers, an upper and lower house.

A piece of legislation under consideration by a legislative body.

Two nations co-existing within one state.

An international system in which there are two dominant nation-states. bourgeoisie. A Marxist term referring to those who own the means of production.

A type of administration characterized by specialization, professionalism, and security of tenure.

A convention that all cabinet ministers publicly support whatever decisions the cabinet has taken, regardless of their personal views.

A meeting of legislators of any one party to discuss parliamentary strategy and party policy.

Government agencies such as the PMO, the PCO, the Treasury Board, and the Finance Department that have certain coordinating functions across the whole federal public service.

Authority based on the admiration of personal qualities of an individual.

A system of government in which power is divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and these powers check and balance each other.

 Legal membership in a community known as a nation-state.

A liberal ideology entailing a minimal role for government in order to maximize individual freedom.

An alliance between two or more political units in response to opposing forces.

A parliamentary government in which the cabinet is composed of members of more than one party.

The unique system of civil law used in Quebec.

A comprehensive set of interrelated legal rules

A form of power based on forced compliance through fear and intimidation.

An alliance among states against external threats.

A commitment by a number of states to join in an alliance against member states that threaten peace.

Goods and services enjoyed in common and not divisible among individuals.

"Communist Information Bureau"; an international communist organization after World War II.

"Communist International"; also known as the Third International, the communist international organization between the two World Wars.

The accumulation of judicial precedents as the basis for court decisions.

A political ideology characterized by a belief in eliminating exploitation through public ownership and central, governmental planning of the economy.

An area of political study concerned with the relative similarities and differences of political systems.

A federal system of government in which sovereign constituent governments create a central government but balance of power remains with constituent governments.

Support for the government by the majority of the members of parliament.

People's acceptance of the form of government under which they live.

The attempt to manage natural resources in order to maximize benefits over a long period of time.

A political ideology generally characterized by a belief in individualism and minimal government intervention in the economy and society; also a belief in the virtue of the status quo and general acceptance of traditional morality.

A form of democracy in which harmony in segmented societies is maintained through the distinctive roles of elites and the autonomy of organized interests.

An electoral district with a body of electors who vote for a representative in an elected assembly.

The fundamental rules and principles by which a state is organized.

The belief that governments will defer to the rules and principles enshrined in a constitution and uphold the rule of law.

A system in which the majority in the lower house can bring down the government, but not until that majority approves another government (e.g. in Germany).

The hiring of private organizations to provide public services.

A practice or custom followed in government although not explicitly written in the constitution or in legislation.

The organization of liberal democracies in such a way that the state is the dominant force in society and the activities of all interests in society are subordinate to that force.

A forceful and unconstitutional change of government, often by a faction within the military or the ruling party.

Any transaction which brings money into the country (e.g. payments for the export of goods).

Corporations owned by the government that assume a structure similar to a private company and that operate semi-independently of the cabinet.

A state selling more to the world than it is buying.

A generally accepted practice or behavior developed over time.

Rules of conduct developed over time and enforceable in court.

Any transaction which sends money out of the country (e.g. payments for the import of goods).

A form of environmentalism holding that nature and the natural order should be valued over individual human happiness.

Occurs when the value of a state's imports is more than the value of its exports.

A representative role in which the individual subordinates his/her views to those of their constituents.

The concentration of power in the leadership of the communist party, which in theory acts in the interests of the people.

The government department that has overall responsibility for the government's finances and its role in the economy.

The Canadian public servant who heads each government department, manages the department, and advises the minister.

A government policy designed to remove regulations on economic market activity.

The excersize of ruling through fear without regard to law and not answerable to the people.

A system of government in which the sovereign central government devolves (delegates) power to regional governments.

In Roman Law, an appointed individual given exceptional powers in times of crisis. In current day, the leader of an authoritarian, typically oppressive state.

A revolutionary seizure of power by the "vanguard" of society, the communist party, which then rules in the name of the working class.

A system of formal, regularized communication that allows states to peacefully conduct their business with each other.

A system of government based on public decisions made by citizens meeting in an assembly or voting by ballot.

A power given to the federal government in the Constitution Act, 1867, under which the cabinet can nullify any provincial law, even though it has received royal assent from the lieutenant-governor of the province.

The flexibility afforded government to decide something within the broader framework of rules.

Laws designed to distribute public goods and services to individuals in society.

Reduction of the size and scope of government.

Greek word for an opinion that may be at least partly true but cannot be fully expounded.

The electoral institution, comprised of 538 electors, which formally chooses the president of the United States.

A small group of people with a disproportionate amount of public decision-making power.

Political analysis based on factual and observable data in contrast to thoughts or ideas.

Greek word for knowledge that can be demonstrated by logical argument from first principles.

The equalization of life chances for all individuals in society, regardless of economic position.

The equalization of outcomes of social and economic processes.

Application of the law in the same way to all.

A section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (s. 15) that prohibits governments from discriminating against certain categories of people.

A small group of elected officials who direct the policy process and oversee the vast array of departments and agencies of government.

A federal process directed by extensive federal-provincial interaction at the level of first ministers, departmental ministers, and deputy ministers.

Laws designed to collect taxes from citizens to pay for governing society.

An association of individuals organized for the purpose of influencing government actions favorable to their interests, now known as interest groups.

An extreme form of nationalism that played on fears of communism and rejected individual freedom, liberal individualism, democracy, and limitations on the state.

A system of government in which sovereignty is divided between a central government and several provincial or state governments.

A combination of social movements, political movements and ideologies that advocate for equality between sexes.

A loose association of socialist parties and labor unions in Western Europe, organized in 1864.

Institutions which are explicitly created by a constitution.

A theory (proposed by Louis Hartz) which argues that colonial societies such as Canada originated as fragments of the larger European society and that these societies have remained marked throughout their history by the conditions of their origin.

Those who enjoy a collective good without helping to pay or work for it.

A legislative vote in which members are not required to toe the party line.

The view that environmental issues are best solved by property rights and markets.

The special activity or purpose structures serve in the political process; for example interest groups to articulate interests.

Manipulating constituency boundaries for partisan election purposes. 

A specialized group of individuals, institutions and agencies which make and enforce public decisions.

The person in effective charge of the executive branch of government; the prime minister in a parliamentary system.

An individual who represents the state but may or may not exercise political power.

Rights thought to fundamentally belong to every individual.

A type of political party which emphasizes ideological purity over the attainment of power.

A system of beliefs and values that explains society and prescribes the role of government.

Institutions which are an integral part of the political process, but which are not established by a constitution.

The initiation of legislative action on a particular issue by way of a voters' petition.

Groups which are closely associated with the government and act internally to influence public decisions.

Organizations whose members act together to influence public policy in order to promote their common interest.

A political party with a single interest or purpose, such as the Green Party.

The body of rules governing the relationships of states with each other.

An international organization created to prevent another collapse in the world monetary system through the stabilization of national currencies throughout the world.

The combination of major actors, rules, mechanisms and understandings to manage the co-existence and interdependence of states.

The pattern of regular cooperation governed by implicit and explicit expectations between two or more states.

An area of political study concerned with the interaction of independent states.

In a court case, the presentation of a view on the law without representing one of the parties in the litigation.

The power of an American president or state governor to veto particular components of a bill rather than reject the entire legislation.

The willingness and inclination of judges to overturn legislation or executive action.

The power of the courts to declare legislation unconstitutional.

The branch of government with the power to resolve legal conflicts that arise between citizens, between citizens and governments, or between levels of government.

A Spanish word meaning a group of individuals forming a government, especially after a revolution or coup d’état.

The philosophy and analysis of law.

The virtue of protecting individuals' possessions and rights within the acknowledged laws of society.

An economic system based on the abstention of government and governmental interference.

A group which lacks formal organization but has the potential for mobilizing politically.

A theory holding that law is the command of the sovereign.

First, second and third readings representing the introduction and debate of proposed bills in the legislative chambers.

A representative assembly responsible for making laws for society.

Belief in the "rightness" of rule.

A system of government characterized by universal adult suffrage, political equality, majority rule and constitutionalism.

A political theory based on equality, rights of the governed, and law.

A state restricted in its exercise of power by the constitution and the rule of law.

A form of proportional representation in which the elector votes not for individuals but for parties who have lists of candidates running for office.

An activity of interest groups aimed at influencing governors and the public to achieve a favorable policy decision(s).

The act of vote-trading among legislators in the process of getting legislation passed.

A parliamentary government in which the party in power has over 50 percent of the seats in the legislature.

A system of hiring public servants on the basis of qualifications rather than on party preference or other considerations.

The idea that a governing body should be a miniature replica of the society it represents.

The principle that cabinet ministers are individually responsible to the House of Commons for everything that happens in their department.

The entire group of MPs appointed by the Prime Minister to specific ministerial responsibilities.

A parliamentary government in which the government party has less than 50 percent of the seats in the legislature.

An economic system comprised of both public and pirvate companies.

Electoral system in which voters cast two ballots, one for a local candidate running in a territorial constituency (first-past-the-post) and the other for a list of candidates put forward by a political party (list system).

The gradual transition from an agricultural, rural, and traditional society to an industrial, urban, and secular society.

Form of government in which a single person rules under the law.

Exclusive emphasis on a single principle or interest.

A type of political party which emerges from a political movement, such as a national liberation movement.

Three or more nations co-existing under one sovereign government.

A party system in which there are three or more major contenders for power.

A system of actions involving several states.

Individuals whose common identity creates a psychological bond and a political community.

A state with a single predominant national identity.

Interests specific to a nation-state, including especially survival and maintenance of power.

The feeling of loyalty and attachment to one's nation or nation-state, and strong support for its interests.

Authority based on spontaneous deference to an individual's knowledge or social position.

Rules of conduct binding humankind by virtue of human rationality and logic.

An ideological term characterizing parties or politicians who not only advocate an end to government expansion, but believe in reducing its role via downsizing, privatization, and deregulation.

A revision of the international economic system in favor of Third World countries

Political analysis based on accepted values, commitments and ideas.

Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows federal or provincial legislatures to pass laws that may violate certain sections of the Charter.

In a parliamentary system, the largest of the opposition parties, given a special role to play in the legislative process.

A form of government in which a minority rules outside the law. ombudsman. An official with the power to investigate complaints against government administration.

A party system in which a single political party dominates the political process as a result of the overwhelming support of the electorate.

Decision by Cabinet which carries legal force.

The supreme authority of parliament to make or repeal laws.

The convention that all MPs within any party vote together, as predetermined in the party caucus and enforced by the party whip.

The domination of society by men.

A process for working towards objectives associated with peaceful coexistence of combatants.

The interposition of lightly armed military forces between combatants who have agreed to stop fighting.

Another term for an advisory referendum.

The absence of coercion in various aspects of life.

A type of political party founded by a single, overwhelmingly influential political leader.

Plato's view of the ideal individual who rules in the common interest and is directed by wisdom and virtue rather than the constraint of law.

The open competition of political interests.

A voting decision based on assigning victory to the largest number of votes, not necessarily a majority.

The network of individuals and organizations deeply involved in a particular area of public policy.

The sense of estrangement from political power.

Attitudes, values, beliefs, and orientations that individuals in a society hold regarding their political system.

The relationship between law, government, markets, production and trade.

Government appointments made as a payoff for loyal partisan activity.

Forces reporting directly to a political leader who uses them for political purposes rather than law enforcement.

The process by which political culture is transmitted from generation to generation.

A form of government characterized by popular sovereignty but exercised within a constitutional framework to prevent the oppression of the minority by the majority rule.

Robert Dahl's term describing a government in which power is held by mutiple people.

Supreme authority residing in the consent of the people.

The shift in values since the late 1940s from public order and material prosperity to self-fulfillment.

A type of political party concerned primarily with winning elections.

A previous judicial case used as an example for deciding the case at hand.

Electoral system in which voters rank the candidates.

The selective portrayal of political events and personalities by the media which in turn affects public opinion.

Laws controlling relations between individuals.

Public bills introduced in the legislature by members who are not in the cabinet.

The sale of government-owned assets or activities to the private sector.

A ceremonial body made up of all present and former cabinet ministers.

The announcement of the official date a new law will take effect.

A tax rate which increases as the amount of one's income increases.

A Marxist term referring to those who sell their labor to the bourgeoisie; the working class.

An electoral system in which the share of seats won closely matches the share of popular votes received.

Authority based on institutional office-holding.

The accumulated sum owed by the government to its creditors.

A form of feminism which calls for the reordering of sexes and views society as a patriarchy in which men dominate and oppress women

A theory of international relations holding that struggles are resolved on the basis of power of conflicting parties.

The ability of voters in a constituency to remove their elected representative from office by means of a petition.

The process of reallocating wealth and income to achieve an economic or social objective.

A decision on policy proposals by a direct vote of the electorate.

A tax that weights more heavily on low incomes.

Laws that control individual and organizational behavior.

Government agencies established to administer regulative laws in certain fields, e.g. the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The stage in the legislative process after the second reading when the House debates the committee's report on a proposed bill.

A system of government based on the election of decision-makers by the people.

Those powers in a federal system of government not explicitly allocated in a constitution.

A form of government in which the political executive must retain the confidence of a majority of the elected legislature or assembly, and it must resign or call an election if and when it is defeated on a vote of nonconfidence.

Belief that all actions, of individuals and governments, are subject to an institutionalized set of rules and regulations.

An electoral system in which additional rounds of balloting are held (with trailing candidates dropped) until a candidate receives a majority of the votes cast.

The spiral of preparations and tensions which emerge when the protective actions of one state lead to countermeasures by another state

The right of members of a group to control their own collective affairs.

The separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

The cohesive group of specialized critics in the official Opposition party.

An electoral system in which the candidate with the most votes wins, even though that win may not represent 51% of the votes.

A party system in which there exists only one party and no political alternatives are legally tolerated.

Socialism emphasizing popular consent, peaceful change, political pluralism, and constitutional government.

A leftist political ideology that emphasizes the principle of equality and usually prescribes a large role for government to intervene in society and the economy via taxation, regulation, redistribution, and public ownership.

The highest or supreme political authority.

The assumption that, after successfully winning an election, the political executive is entitled to appoint large numbers of supporters to the bureaucracy.

The pattern of mutual coordination that emerges as individuals pursue their own interests in society.

Legislative committees that are set up permanently and parallel government functions.

The legal principle that precedents are binding on similar subsequent cases; the basis of the common law system.

A society without a sovereign government.

The heavy intervention of the state in societal affairs, especially in the economic system.

A specific piece of legislation.

A theory of international relations stressing the impact of world economic structures on the political, social, cultural and economic life of countries.

Laws designed to create special meaning for society, such as the adoption of a national anthem.

A variation of socialism in which the workers own or control the factory or workplace.

A modern form of despotic rule in which the state undertakes to remake society according to an ideological design.

A cabinet committee and government department whose primary responsibility is to oversee government spending.

A representative who acts independently in deciding what is in the best interests of his or her constituents.

A party system in which there are two credible contenders for power and either is capable of winning any election.

A broad classification scheme of governmental systems.

A form of government in which one person rules arbitrarily.

Term used to describe an action which exceeds the conferred constitutional powers of the actor. Literally, "beyond the power."

A system of government in which a single sovereign government rules the country.

Early-nineteenth century socialism based on a universal appeal to reason.

The authorized power of a president to reject legislation passed by Congress.

The provision for redistributive benefits such as education and health services by the state.

A form of environmentalism positing the intrinsic importance of wilderness for humankind.

A political movement by women to obtain the right to vote in an election.

An international organization created to provide the ground rules for international trade and commerce.