Speaker and Presiding Officers

Like all other Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), the Speaker is an elected official who represents one of Alberta’s 87 constituencies. Following a provincial election, MLAs elect the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees and Deputy Chair of Committees from among all MLAs by secret ballot. This is the first act done at the opening of a new Legislature.
Once elected, the Speaker becomes an impartial representative of the whole Assembly and must serve all MLAs equally regardless of party affiliation.

The key characteristics of the Speaker’s role are authority and impartiality; the Assembly grants the Speaker the authority to direct its debates and proceedings, and the Speaker does so without favouring MLAs from one political party over those from another.

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Because the Speaker represents the Legislative Assembly,

all MLAs must accept the Speaker's authority within the Assembly.
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Members must demonstrate

the same respect for the Speaker as they show the Assembly as an institution.
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The Speaker holds office

until the day before the commencement of the next Legislature, to ensure administrative continuity during the election period.

“Presiding officer” simply refers to the individual who oversees or “presides” over a meeting of the Assembly or a committee. Their duties include calling upon MLAs to speak, preserving order in debate and ensuring the due observance of the rules. In the case of the Assembly it refers to the Speaker or their designate. For committees it refers to the chair.

In the Assembly the presiding officers in addition to the Speaker are the Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees, often referred to simply as the Deputy Speaker, and the Deputy Chair of Committees.

The Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees presides over the debates when the Speaker cannot be present and serves as chair of both committees of the whole Assembly, the Committee of the Whole and the Committee of Supply. The role is assigned to the Deputy Chair of Committees when neither the Speaker nor the Deputy Speaker is available.

The Role of the Speaker

The Speaker has a dual role that includes both procedural duties within the House and executive leadership responsibilities for the Legislative Assembly Office (LAO), which is the entity established to assist in the conduct of the business and affairs of the Legislative Assembly. The position is at a similar level to a Cabinet Minister.

 

The Speaker maintains orderly debate in the Chamber as part of their procedural role and ensures that Members conduct their business according to parliamentary rules, which are the Standing Orders of the Assembly. The Speaker does not participate in caucus meetings during session and cannot engage in debate in the Assembly. Questions may not be directed to the Speaker during Oral Question Period.

 

The Speaker also serves as the chief administrator of the LAO, with ultimate responsibility for the operations and financial management of the Assembly.

The Speaker ensures Members receive the necessary tools and resources to fulfill their roles as representatives of the people of Alberta and chairs the Special Standing Committee on Members’ Services, which, among other things, approves the budgets of the LAO and Member benefits and allowances.

The Speaker also receives official guests of the province

such as high commissioners, ambassadors and consuls general as head of the legislative branch of government and is a vital link with parliaments and Legislatures across Canada and around the world.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)

fosters interaction with other parliamentarians and boasts representatives from more than 175 parliaments. The Speaker is the president of Alberta’s CPA Legislative Assembly branch.

Historical Roots

The history of Speakership dates back to the earliest parliaments of Britain, when the monarch appointed a Speaker to present the resolutions of Parliament to the monarch and his or her advisors. The Speaker’s position was not an enviable one during this period of subservience to the Crown as many Speakers incurred the wrath of the monarch after bringing news that displeased the Sovereign.

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The Speaker’s role changed as the parliamentary system evolved.

Parliament first came into being because the nobility disagreed with being taxed and having no control over how the monarch spent their money. Monarchs empowered Parliament, particularly the House of Commons, to levy taxes, spend tax dollars and make laws over the course of many centuries. Over several centuries of struggle between the monarch and Parliament, the bond between the Speaker and the Crown gradually weakened. The Speaker’s role eventually shifted towards a nonpartisan role that should refrain from party politics either inside or outside Parliament.

The modern parliamentary system reflects the history and traditions associated with the role of the Speaker. Today the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition “force” a newly elected Speaker to the chair, seemingly against their will.

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Speaker Rulings

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The Speaker regularly makes rulings

regarding the procedural acceptability of a matter before the Assembly. Rulings range from reminders to Members not to speak out of turn to complex questions of parliamentary privilege and may serve as precedents for future proceedings.




 The Honourable Nathan Cooper, pictured above, is Alberta's current Speaker.
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The Speaker may rule a Member out of order for breaking Assembly rules

during debate or Oral Question Period or decide whether a Member may have breached parliamentary privilege. Past rulings often form the precedents that guide modern parliamentary practice.




 Robert Wanner, pictured above, was Alberta's 13th Speaker. 
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Because each ruling is based on the rules and traditions of past parliaments,

each in turn may influence how future Speakers interpret the rules of procedure. As parliament progresses with society, the Speaker interprets and applies the traditions of former Assemblies while functioning effectively in the present. The traditional principles of procedure are maintained even though specific rules and their interpretations are evolving.




 Ken Kowalski, pictured above, was Alberta's 11th Speaker.

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