Sunday, September 21, 2008

Canadian Political Lingo

Before going into more detail about the Canadian political system, I want to make a couple of points about terminology that the Canadians use in their political discourse.

Their political language largely follows that of the U.K., some of which I described here. But two words, "Confederation" and "riding" are specific to Canada.

Canadians refer to the events of 1867 when they, in effect, became independent of Britain, as "Confederation". It's not called "independence". Unlike the United States, which abruptly severed ties with Britain, with the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the 1783 Treaty of Paris, Canada remained, after 1867, formally under British control. As a practical matter, however, the U.K. did not tend to stand in the way of the Canadians' political will.

The word "confederation" describes a political structure under which political subdivisions of a country, such as the provinces of Canada, have a high level of autonomy. By contrast, federal systems, such as those of the U.S. and Germany, have subdivisions that are sovereign within their scope of responsibility, but are subject to a strong federal government. There is a third structure, which might be labeled unitary government, under which all local government is under the control of the national government (e.g., France).

The word "riding" is slang for a constituency that is represented in Canada's House of Commons. According to the Wikipedia entry for that word, it is derived from Old English, and has nothing to do with, for example, riding a horse.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for example, is said to represent the Calgary Southwest riding. And Harper's Conservative Party won all 28 Alberta ridings in the last general election.

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