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
“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 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.
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.
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.