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Canadian Electoral System

Electoral systems are methods of choosing political representatives. (See also Political Campaigning in Canada.) Elections in Canada use a first-past-the-post system, whereby the candidate that wins the most votes in a constituency is selected to represent that riding. Elections are governed by an elaborate series of laws and a well-developed administrative apparatus. They occur at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Canada’s federal election system is governed by the Canada Elections Act. It is administered by the Chief Electoral Officer. Provincial election systems, governed by provincial election acts, are similar to the federal system; they differ slightly from each other in important details. Federal and provincial campaigns — and that of Yukon — are party contests in which candidates represent political parties. Municipal campaigns — and those of Northwest Territories and Nunavut — are contested by individuals, not by parties.

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Indigenous Peoples and Government Policy in Canada

For most of the history of political interaction between Indigenous people and the Canadian government (and its colonial predecessors) government policy has focused on First Nations. The Inuit were barely acknowledged until the 1940s, while special responsibility for Métis and Non-Status Indians was largely denied until 2016. The early history of Indigenous policy in Canada is characterized by the presence of both France and Britain as colonizing powers. British colonial policy acknowledged Indigenous peoples as sovereign nations. Post-Confederation Canadian Indigenous policy, until the 1960s, was based on a model of assimilation, with one of its main instruments being the Indian Act. Since the late 1960s, government policy has gradually shifted to a goal of self-determination for Indigenous peoples, to be achieved through modern-day treaties and self-government agreements.

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Political Participation in Canada

Canadians participate in the political system any time they voluntarily try to influence the outcome of an election, or a government or party policy. This can be done in various ways, from voting to campaigning for a political cause to running for political office. The highest turnout rate for a federal election was 79.4 per cent in 1958. Voter turnout in Canada declined in the 1990s and 2000s, reaching 58.8 per cent in 2008. The numbers then began trending upwards, reaching 68.3 per cent in 2015 and 67 per cent in 2019. Women, who gained the right to vote federally in 1918, vote at slightly higher rates than men. Older citizens are more politically active than younger ones, although voting among people age 18 to 34 increased sharply between 2011 and 2019.

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Famous Five

Alberta’s “Famous Five” were petitioners in the groundbreaking Persons Case. The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1927. It was decided in 1929 by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Canada’s highest appeals court at the time. The group was led by judge Emily Murphy. It also included  Henrietta EdwardsNellie McClungLouise McKinney and Irene Parlby. Together, the five women had many years of active work in various campaigns for women’s rights dating back to the 1880s and 1890s. They enjoyed a national — and in the case of McClung, an international — reputation among reformers.

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Canadian Party System

Political parties are organizations that seek to control government. They participate in public affairs by nominating candidates for elections. ( See also Political Campaigning in Canada.) Since there are typically multiple groups that wish to do this, political parties are best thought of as part of a party system. This system dictates the way political parties conduct themselves in competition with one another. As of 2015, there were 23 registered political parties in Canada. The five major federal parties are the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP), the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party of Canada.

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Political Campaigning in Canada

A political campaign is an organized effort to secure the nomination and election of people seeking public office. In a representative democracy, electoral campaigns are the primary means by which voters are informed of a political party’s policy or a candidate’s views. The conduct of campaigns in Canada has evolved gradually over nearly two centuries. It has adapted mostly British and American campaign practices to the needs of a parliamentary federation with two official languages. Campaigns occur at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. Federal and provincial campaigns are party contests in which candidates represent political parties. Municipal campaigns — and those of Northwest Territories and Nunavut — are contested by individuals, not by parties.

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Criminal Law

Criminal law, in its widest sense, includes substantive criminal law, the operation of penal institutions, criminal procedure and evidence, and police investigations (see Criminal Investigation). More precisely, the term refers to substantive criminal law - a body of law that prohibits certain kinds of conduct and imposes sanctions for unlawful behaviour.

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Guy Paul Morin Case

The Guy Paul Morin case was the second major wrongful conviction case to occur in the modern era of the Canadian criminal justice system. The case was riddled with official errors — from inaccurate eyewitness testimony and police tunnel vision, to scientific bungling and the suppression of evidence. Morin had been acquitted of the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop in 1986, only to be found guilty at a retrial in 1992. He was cleared by DNA evidence in 1995 and received $1.25 million in compensation. In 2020, DNA evidence identified Calvin Hoover, a Jessop family friend who died in 2015, as the real killer.

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Johnson-Butler Purchase

The Johnson-Butler Purchase of 1787–88 (also known as the “Gunshot Treaty,” referring to the distance a person could hear a gunshot from the lake’s edge) is one of the earliest land agreements between representatives of the Crown and the Indigenous peoples of Upper Canada (later Ontario). It resulted in a large tract of territory along the central north shore of Lake Ontario being opened for settlement. These lands became part of the Williams Treaties of 1923. (See also Upper Canada Land Surrenders and Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Covenant Chain

The Covenant Chain is the name given to the complex system of alliances between the Haudenosaunee (also known as the Six Nations and Iroquois League) and Anglo-American colonies originating in the early 17th century. The first alliances were most likely between New York and the Kanyen'kehà:ka (Mohawk). These early agreements were referred to figuratively as chains because they bound multiple parties together in alliance. Today the Covenant Chain represents the long tradition of diplomatic relations in North America, and is often invoked when discussing contemporary affairs between the state and Indigenous peoples. (See also Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.)

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Gallicanism

Gallicanism is a doctrine which originated in France in the Middle Ages and sought to regulate the relationship between the Catholic Church and the state. It underlined the independence of the French Church in terms of papal authority, but also its subordination to the royal power. It thus confirmed the supremacy of the state in public life, unlike Ultramontanism, which supported the submission of the Churches and kingdoms to the papacy.

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Administrative Law in Canada

Administrative law is one of three basic areas of public law dealing with the relationship between government and its citizens; the other two are constitutional law and criminal law. (See also Rule of Law.) Administrative law ensures that government actions are authorized by Parliament or by provincial legislatures, and that laws are implemented and administered in a fair and reasonable manner. Administrative law is based on the principle that government actions must (strictly speaking) be legal, and that citizens who are affected by unlawful government acts must have effective remedies. A strong administrative law system helps maintain public confidence in government authority.

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Torts in Canada

Tort law is a cornerstone of the Canadian legal system. It provides compensation for people who have been injured; or whose property has been damaged by the wrongdoing of others. Tort law is a vast area of private law. It has evolved to keep up with technology and social issues. It has been used by a growing number of victims of crime to help them seek justice against perpetrators. It has also been at the centre of high-profile Canadian cases involving the abuse of children; and the liability of governments for failing to protect citizens from contagious diseases and from defective medical devices.

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Administrative Tribunals in Canada

Administrative tribunals make decisions on behalf of federal and provincial governments when it is impractical or inappropriate for the government to do so itself. Tribunals are set up by federal or provincial legislation; this is known as “empowering legislation.” Tribunals are commonly known as commissions or boards. They make decisions about a wide variety of issues, including disputes between people or between people and the government. Tribunals may also perform regulatory or licensing functions. Their decisions may be reviewed by the courts. Because they engage in fact-finding and have the power to impact personal rights, tribunals are often seen as “quasi-judicial.”

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Provincial Government in Canada

Under Canada’s federal system, the powers of government are shared between the federal government and 10 provincial governments. The Constitution Act, 1867 granted specific jurisdiction to the provinces in 16 areas, compared to 29 for the federal government. However, provincial powers have expanded since then. Provinces can levy direct taxation and derive most of their non-tax revenue from the use of public lands and natural resources. Provincial governments in Canada are modelled on the British Westminster parliamentary tradition and reflect the principles of responsible government. They comprise an elected legislative assembly, from which a governing cabinet is selected by the premier. The lieutenant-governor assents to legislation as the representative of the Crown.

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Great Coalition of 1864

The politics of the Province of Canada in the early 1860s were marked by instability and deadlock. The Great Coalition of 1864 proved to be a turning point in Canadian history. It proved remarkably successful in breaking the logjam of central Canadian politics and in helping to create a new country. The coalition united Reformers and Conservatives in the cause of constitutional reform. It paved the way for the Charlottetown Conference and Confederation.  

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Political Corruption

Political corruption may be defined as behaviour by public officials, elected or appointed, which violates social or legal norms regarding what is or is not legitimate private gain at public expense.

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Organized Crime in Canada

Organized crime is defined in the Criminal Code as a group of three or more people whose purpose is the commission of one or more serious offences that would “likely result in the direct or indirect receipt of a material benefit, including a financial benefit, by the group.” Organized crime centres on illegal means of making money, such as gambling; prostitution; pornography; drug trafficking; insurance and construction fraud; illegal bankruptcy; motor vehicle theft; computer crime; and counterfeiting, among many others. The structure, sophistication and widespread nature of organized crime first became evident in the 1960s and 1970s. Some criminal organizations are based on ethnicity, such as the Italian Mafia and Chinese triads. Others are founded within certain industries (e.g., construction) or activities (e.g., biker gangs).