French terms in Canadian politics

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In Canada, the political system is based on Westminster parliamentarism and has evolved with local traditions. One of the particularities of the Canadian experience of the British constitutional monarchy is the presence of the French language in the terms.

  • Premier ministre (Prime Minister). In French this refers both to the federal first minister, Premier ministre du Canada (Prime Minister of Canada), and to the provincial premiers for example the Premier of Quebec (Premier ministre du Québec). Canada has had prime ministers since 1867 although they are not mentioned in the written constitution and exist by convention. In France, the office of prime minister existed as in formal advisor to the Crown since 1624. Under the republic the office of prime minister did not exist until 1946.
  • Comté - which usually means county in Canada can also be an informal term for an electoral district, like the English riding. The appropriate and recommended term in French for this, however, is circonscription (électorale).[1]
  • Chambre des communes (House of Commons) the word "communes" here reveals the etymology of the English version of "commons" which was adopted from the British (and before that English) House of Commons, and which means "communities". The lower house is the house of communities, and not the house of "commoners" (non-nobles) as is commonly supposed.
  • Poteau (literally "pole", figuratively a paper candidate). The term was used in the press to describe Ruth Ellen Brosseau of the New Democratic Party, an unexpected winner in Canada's 2011 federal election.[2][3]

Terms coming from France, usually adopted in Quebec:

  • Assemblée nationale du Québec (National Assembly of Quebec) - this replaced the older term "Legislative Assembly" during the 1960s, under the influence of Quebec nationalism
  • Loi and droit - both can translate as "law" in English, but have very different meanings. Loi refers to legislation, whereas droit is the more general sense of legal rules and norms. Loi is used as translation of "act" in acts of parliament, whereas droit is used as the equivalent of "right" is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Charte canadienne des droits et libertés). See also: Translating "law" to other European languages

Terms closer to the United States:


  1. ^ Grand dictionnaire terminologique - Office québécois de la langue française - Édition informatisée 2005
  2. ^ "Ruth Ellen Brosseau: de "poteau" à députée". La Presse (in French). 2011-05-04. Retrieved 2012-05-08. 
  3. ^ Weisblott, Marc (2011-05-04). "Las Vegas-vacationing anglophone Quebec MP gets spoofed on Facebook page". Daily Brew (blog). Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2012-05-08. But, in fact, they were a reference to Brosseau being a "poteau," or post, a Quebecois term for candidates who are on the ballot to represent a party with no expectation of victory.