• Myrna Driedger

150th anniversary of first Legislative day

Published in the Canstar Metro and Headliner on April 23, 2021

By Myrna Driedger

This past March 15 was the 150th anniversary of the first sitting day of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. As Speaker, I was happy to acknowledge this monumental date in the chamber with a special statement.

Today I’d like to share some parts of that statement:

"The first sitting day saw the election of the first Speaker, Joseph Royal, Esq., who was immediately tasked with reading the first speech from the throne. Among other matters, the speech included instructions for members to draft laws covering the most basic government functions.

"Referring to the MLAs as the ‘Gentlemen of the Legislative Assembly’ the speech also instructed members to take over responsibility for the expenditures of the government from the federal ministers.

"In those early years of our provincial history the ability of the Legislature to tax was limited, and 90 per cent of provincial expenditures were covered by the federal government. It’s interesting to take a look back at that first budget which totaled $81,425. Some of the line items in the budget included: $10,000 for roads and bridges; $6,000 for public buildings; $2,000 for immigration and agriculture; $500 for the hospital of St. Boniface.

"From 1871 to 1873 the assembly met in a modest log house in the Red River Settlement owned by A.G.B. Bannatyne. The assembly met on the main floor while the upper chamber met in the upstairs. Impressively, the current Manitoba Legislative Assembly holds within it a piece of history from this first modest house - the old mace. Although this mace was replaced by our current mace in 1884, I am so pleased that we still have this important piece of history. When I became Speaker in 2016, I began the tradition in which the old mace is used every year on Manitoba Day and on other special occasions, such as the 150th anniversary of the first sitting day of the Manitoba Legislature.

"I feel that it provides a visceral and vivid reminder of where our assembly began all those years ago. Our predecessors could scarcely have imagined what the future would hold in store for our province, nor could they have imagined the complex, technological world in which we live.

"I would encourage members to reflect on the solemn responsibility we all share to serve our constituents - the same responsibility faced in 1871- and recall that whatever heated debates we have here are part of a long legacy of service to the citizens of this province."

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