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The Speaker of the House



 

 

 

The Speaker is the principal office holder in the House of Assembly.

The person elected by Members of the House of Assembly to be Speaker assumes the position of highest authority in the House, and represents the House in all its powers, proceedings and dignity.

The duties of the office fall into three categories: (1) the Speaker acts as the spokesman of the House in its relations with the Crown, the Legislature and authorities outside Parliament; (2) the Speaker presides over the sittings of the House and enforces the observance of all rules for the preservation of order and the conduct of business; and (3) the Speaker has responsibilities relating to the administration of the House of Assembly.

The Speaker's principal duty as presiding officer is to maintain order in debate and to apply and interpret the practices and traditions of the House. To do this, the Speaker must rely on the Standing Orders--the written rules of the House--precedents, and various procedural authorities. The Speaker's actions must always be and appear to be, impartial; for this reason, the Speaker never participates in debate. In overseeing the conduct of the House, the Speaker seeks to maintain the balance between two fundamental operating principles of Parliament: to allow the majority to secure the transaction of business in an orderly manner and to protect the right of the minority to be heard.

Maintaining Order

The Standing Orders set down only in general terms the authority of the Speaker to maintain order and decorum in the House. One rule states simply, "the Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order." In practice, the authority of the Speaker is wide-ranging, affecting such matters as Members' dress, disturbances on the floor or in the Galleries, the conduct of proceedings, and the rules of debate. Since debate is the means by which most decisions are considered, the practices here are, in fact, quite specific. For example, all debate is addressed to the Speaker, not to other Members.  Even during Question Period, questions are addressed through the Chair. It is the Speaker who possesses the authority to recognize participants in the debate, and who can call to order any Member who indulges in repetition or irrelevant arguments.

The strongest penalty the Speaker can use against a Member is to "name" the Member, and the threat of naming is usually enough to ensure respect for the Speaker's authority. A Member is named for disregarding the authority of the Speaker when, for example, the Member has refused a request to withdraw unparliamentary language, to desist in irrelevant or repetitious debate, or to stop interrupting a Member who is addressing the House. Persisting in any other disorderly conduct when warned by the Speaker to desist is also a defiance of the authority of the Chair, which can lead to naming.

Before naming a Member, the Speaker usually warns him or her several times that in not obeying the Chair, he or she risks being named. If the Member apologizes to the general satisfaction of the Speaker, the incident is usually considered closed and no other measure is taken. If the Member is named, however, the Speaker has two options: he or she may immediately order the offending Member to withdraw from the Chamber for the balance of the day's sitting; alternatively, the Speaker may simply wait for the House to take whatever disciplinary action it deems appropriate. The first is an option introduced in February 1986, and since its adoption, has been used exclusively as a disciplinary measure consequent upon naming. However, should the Speaker choose the second alternative, another Member--usually the Government House Leader--will immediately propose a motion to suspend the offending Member. Such a motion is neither debatable nor amendable. Once the motion for suspension has been proposed, the Speaker will put the question. If the motion carries, the Member must withdraw from the Chamber and is also prevented from sitting in Committees of the Whole and in legislative, standing or special committees for the duration of the suspension.