Role of the Speaker
The Speaker is a key figure in the Legislative Assembly. They are the neutral, non-partisan Presiding Officer of the Legislative Assembly, the position of highest authority in the Legislative Assembly and represents the Legislature in all its powers and proceedings. The Speaker is an MLA elected in a secret ballot by all Members of the Legislative Assembly to preside over legislative proceedings and ensure that the Assembly’s established rules of behaviour, practices (written and unwritten) and procedures are followed during Legislative sessions. It is the Speaker’s duty to interpret these rules impartially, to maintain order, and to defend the rights and privileges of Members including the right to freedom of speech.
The duties of the Speaker falls into three categories.
1. The Speaker as Presiding Officer
Balancing the right of the majority to conduct business with the right of the minority to be heard is one of the Speaker’s most important responsibilities.
The Speaker presides over the sitting of the Assembly and enforces the rules, orders and conduct of business. The Speaker oversees debates in the Chamber and ensures that Members follow the rules and practices of the Legislative Assembly as they ask or answer questions, debate or vote. The key aspects of being Speaker are authority and impartiality. The Speaker does not take part in debates, ask or answer questions, and does not vote except to break a tie. The Speaker also defends the Legislative Assembly estimates in the Committee of Supply. All questions and statements during a formal sitting must be directed through the Speaker.
2. The Speaker as Administrator
The Speaker is the head of the Legislative Assembly and is responsible for its overall direction and management.
The Speaker is responsible for the daily administration of the Assembly- financial, administration, human resources, legal, procedural and informational- and is supported by a team overseen by and Executive Director of Administration and Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.
3. The Speaker as Official Representative of the House
The Speaker acts as the official ambassador of the Legislative Assembly, meets with elected officials, Ambassadors, Consul Generals and Honourary Consul Generals from all over the world and represents the Manitoba Legislature at parliamentary gatherings in Canada and internationally.
Other Roles and Responsibilities
The Speaker oversees the Manitoba Legislative Assembly Education and Outreach services, is the Honourary Chair of the Association of Former Manitoba MLAs and provides a supporting role to the Youth Parliament of Manitoba.
Impartiality of the Chair
The Assembly must trust in the impartiality of the Speaker, or it cannot function. Members are entitled to expect the Speaker to remain neutral and treat all Members fairy. At the same time, a Speaker is entitled to expect support from all Members regardless of their party.
The name Speaker was first used long ago in England. The original job of the Speaker was to communicate information to the King or Queen on behalf of the House of Commons- the commoners. The Speaker presented petitions and grievances on behalf of these people. If the King or Queen didn’t like what the Speaker had to say, the Speaker could literally lose their head! For that reason, the job of Speaker has not always been a desirable one. Today, out of respect for days when people really had to be forced to take this job, a Speaker is taken to the Speaker’s Chair for the first time by the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition. The new Speaker will pretend to resist as they approach the Chair. This is because of tradition, not because the Speaker does not want the job.
The Speaker as MLA
The Speaker, when elected, does not stop being an MLA. That means that while remaining neutral and avoiding taking public positions on politically controversial matters before the Legislative Assembly, the Speaker must continue to listen to the people of his or her constituency and to effectively represent their interests. The Speaker does this by making private recommendations to government and organizations on issues affecting their constituency. The Speaker however does not attend Caucus meetings.
Legislative Assembly Security
The Speaker is responsible for security for the Legislative Assembly.
The Speaker’s Uniform
Another important tradition surrounding the Speaker is the “uniform.” The tricorn hat and black robes serve as a constant reminder of the Speaker’s special role.
The Mace is a large, heavy and richly ornamental rod used in the Legislative Assembly. It is the symbol of the authority of the House. The Sergeant-At-Arms carries the Mace into the Chamber each day as part of the Speaker’s Parade.