The Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan, our province’s parliament, plays a vital role in our lives. We are all bound by the laws passed by the members of the Assembly and there is no higher authority that is able to amend a statute. In essence, government power must be exercised through the Legislative Assembly and all laws must be introduced in the Assembly by a member elected by the people.
We have an important role to play in our province's development: indeed, it is our democratic right to elect a new Legislative Assembly at least every four years. We could all benefit from a better understanding of the relevance of parliamentary process to our society.
The fundamental democratic principle that gives life to our Legislative Assembly is responsible government, meaning that government must answer for its actions to a legislature of members elected by the people.
The concept of responsible government evolved over time. Originally, the cabinet was composed of people who did not hold seats in the legislature. After it was decided that government needed parliamentary approval for its actions, it became obvious that cabinet ought to have membership in parliament to better carry on the Sovereign's business. While cabinet's purpose was to control government policy and find and maintain support, its closer relationship with parliament provided a direct opportunity for members to scrutinize, question and publicize government’s actions.
The crucial feature of this interaction between government and parliament was that cabinet could be defeated by a majority decision of the Assembly. Today, when a cabinet loses the confidence of the Assembly, it is usual that the people be given an opportunity to elect a new Assembly and government.
While the Prime Minister and the premiers of Canada's provinces are heads of government, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Canada's formal head of state. This is in contrast to the system of government in the United States, where the president is head of both government and state.
In the Canadian Constitution, government is declared "to continue and be vested in the Queen." The Saskatchewan legislature consists of the Legislative Assembly and the Queen, or the Lieutenant Governor who ordinarily represents the Queen.
It is significant that the Lieutenant Governor has the power to dissolve or dismiss a legislature. Our Constitution was intentionally framed to place the supreme power of state with the Crown, beyond control of the partisan political process. Symbolically, every Act is passed by the Legislative Assembly in the name of the Queen. In principle, the Crown is the custodian of our Constitution and the guarantor of our democratic rights and can, in exceptional circumstances, protect the Legislative Assembly and the people from abuse of power. It is important to remember that although governments exercise power, they do not possess it; power is given by the Crown only temporarily and in trust, and can be revoked if abused.
Elements of State
The state is comprised of three elements: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary. All of these components are linked through the Crown, who is head of state.
The executive arm consists of the Premier, who is the President of the Executive Council and head of government with control over cabinet and the civil service.
The legislative arm consists of the Speaker, who is the Assembly's presiding officer, and the elected members, who are served by the Clerk and staff of the legislative service.
The judicial arm consists of the Chief Justice and the judges who preside over the courts.
Agencies, Crown Corporations
Clerk and Legislative Service
Officers of the Assembly
Government in Saskatchewan
The Saskatchewan government derives its authority to conduct provincial affairs from the Canadian Constitution, which divides law-making powers among the federal parliament and the provincial legislatures. The federal and provincial governments are co-sovereign, meaning they each have authority for specific areas assigned by the Constitution. By agreement, one level of government might delegate the administration of a law to another. For example, the provincial governments delegate power to municipal and rural governments.
Most importantly, the Government of Saskatchewan has authority over direct taxation for provincial purposes; natural resources; health; local works; property and civil rights in the province; and administration of justice, education, and municipal and rural affairs. Through agreements with the federal government, administration of a wide variety of matters is shared.
Function of the Legislative Assembly
Too many of us consider our Legislative Assembly to be a form of theatre where personalities dramatically clash and members engage in seemingly endless debate. This is an inaccurate picture of the true character of parliament.
The word "parliament" is derived from the Latin term parliamentum, which originally applied to conversations between monks and later to diplomatic conferences. The French verb parler means to speak, and freedom of expression is the basic means by which parliament holds government accountable.
In the period between general elections, the Legislative Assembly performs three important roles in its job of overseeing government: a legislative role, a financial role and an inquiry role.
The passage of laws is the function most commonly attributed to the Legislative Assembly. Because our province is governed by rule of law, it is essential that each piece of legislation introduced in the Assembly is given effective consideration. To understand the legislative process, terminology is important. Legislation being considered by the Assembly is called a Bill. After a Bill is passed, it becomes an Act or statute.
Stages of a Bill
All Bills introduced in the Assembly must go through the following stages to become law:
First Reading: The Bill is introduced and read for the first time. No debate occurs at this stage. Printed copies of the Bill are distributed for further consideration. The option exists to refer the Bill to a committee that will conduct public hearings on its content.
Second Reading: The Minister begins a debate of the Bill by outlining its purpose and its provisions. Other members join the debate by critiquing the principle of the Bill.
Committee Stage: The Bill is referred to a policy field committee or Committee of the Whole for a detailed examination of the Bill. Public hearings may be held before the Bill is examined clause by clause. Amendments may also be proposed before the Bill is reported back to the Assembly.
Third Reading: Members may debate the Bill one final time before voting on it.
Royal Assent: The Lieutenant Governor or his representative gives the Bill Royal Assent.
For a more detailed explanation of Bills, see How Laws are Made.
Each year the Minister of Finance proposes a budget to the Legislative Assembly. Estimates on the anticipated expenditures for each ministry and agency are tabled so that members may review in detail each minister's budget. This process occurs primarily in the policy field and House committees and consists of the minister and his/her officials responding to questions from committee members before the funds requested are granted. The estimates for Executive Council, for which the Premier is responsible, are considered in the Committee of Finance.
The Assembly has the right to deny the amounts requested or to reduce the budget as it sees fit. This process is known as grievance before supply and dates back to the beginning of parliament when control of the purse strings was wrested away from the king.
Once the Assembly and its committees have concluded their consideration of the estimates, an appropriation Bill is introduced to grant the approved funding. The government has no authority to spend public money until this process is completed, unless the Assembly allows temporary financing by passing interim supply Bills.
The Assembly's financial role also includes the oversight of expenditures. After funding is approved, the audit process begins. At the conclusion of the fiscal year, the government must table the public accounts. The members' review of the books is aided by the Provincial Auditor, an officer of the Assembly, who issues formal reports. All these publications are referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, which determines whether all expenditures were done with proper legislative authority and with value for the money spent. The Standing Committee on Crown and Central Agencies conducts a similar review of the activities of Saskatchewan's Crown corporations.
In order to effectively examine government activities, the Legislative Assembly must have the opportunity to seek information. The ability of members to ask questions helps form public opinion on numerous issues of importance to the province. Two common ways members can obtain information are to either ask a question of the government or to move a motion for return requesting that certain information is returned to the Assembly.
Question Period: This is probably the best known of all the Assembly's inquiry processes. Each day for 25 minutes when the legislature is in session, members have the opportunity to direct questions to a cabinet minister on any topic within that minister's responsibility.
Written Questions: Members can also direct written questions to a minister, who has the option to answer directly within five sitting days or to convert the question into a return. A return is necessary when a response would be too detailed to prepare within the normal time limit. A controversial question is usually converted to a motion for return, which can be debated and amended.
Committee review: Members must often deal with complex issues that require a good deal of consideration. In many cases, the whole Assembly does not have time to properly deal with certain important matters that demand attention. Legislative committees allow members to carry out detailed investigations before the Assembly must come to a decision. Committees afford members the opportunity to pursue a detailed line of inquiry and allow ministers to bring their departmental officials into the room to help answer members' questions.
In addition to their regular work reviewing Bills and estimates, committees may be directed to undertake specialized tasks such as reviewing the rules of the Assembly or examining specific issues like energy options or tobacco control. Meetings are scheduled as needed during a legislative session and between sessions. All committees report their findings to the Assembly.
More information on committees can be found here.
A session of the legislature is opened by the reading of the Speech from the Throne by the Lieutenant-Governor, who is the Queen’s representative in Saskatchewan. The Throne Speech is prepared by the government and outlines its legislative agenda for the upcoming Session. It is the subject of a major debate.
The debates of the Assembly and its committees are guided by general parliamentary practice and by formal rules. The Assembly follows a daily order of business, which begins with routine proceedings. This period takes place every day and includes question period and introduction of Bills. Routine proceedings are usually followed by government orders, during which government business is conducted, including debate on all public Bills and on the budget. On Thursdays, routine proceedings are followed by private members' business, which is a forum for private members to introduce and debate issues of their own choosing.
Debate in the Legislative Assembly must be initiated by a member moving a motion. Motions are proposals made to elicit a decision of the Assembly and must be decided in the affirmative or negative. At the conclusion of a debate, when no further members wish to speak to a motion or when the allotted time has elapsed, the Speaker asks members to vote. The decision of the Assembly is gauged after listening for the "yeas" and "nays". On occasion members will ask for a formal recorded division, which requires each member's vote to be recorded by the Clerk in the Assembly's minutes. A simple majority is required for a motion to be passed.
Members of the Legislature
Saskatchewan is divided into 58 electoral districts called constituencies. Each constituency elects a single MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) as its representative.
Candidates for election usually represent a political party. A political party is a group of people who have similar views on how society should be organized and what governments should do. The party that wins the majority of the seats in an election becomes the government, which is led by the Premier. The opposition is the party with the second highest number of members. Its job is to propose alternative policies by placing its views before the Assembly in debate. On occasion there may be a third party represented in the Assembly, as well as independent members who do not belong to a recognized political party.
Once in the Assembly, members may be chosen to perform one of a number of different House and caucus roles. These roles include the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, House Leader, Whip and Speaker.
The Lieutenant-Governor invites the leader of the political party that has elected the greatest number of members to become Premier. When no party has a majority, the Premier is the person most likely to hold the confidence of the Assembly.
The Premier is head of government and chooses a cabinet traditionally from members of the Assembly, usually from the Premier's party, to formulate government policy. Cabinet members are known as ministers and are responsible for one or more government ministries or agencies. In the Assembly Chamber, it is the custom for ministers to occupy the front rows of seats to the right of the Speaker. The Premier's place is in the centre of the first row.
Leader of the Opposition
The head of the political party that forms the opposition is given the parliamentary title of Leader of the Opposition. The opposition is, in effect, an alternative to the government and its leader is an alternative to the Premier.
The opposition’s criticisms of government help to form public opinion, which is crucial to a democratic society. The importance of this role is acknowledged by the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has the same parliamentary status as a cabinet minister. In the Chamber, the Leader of the Opposition sits directly opposite the Premier and often appoints a "shadow" cabinet to assist him in holding the government accountable.
House Leaders and Whips
The House leaders are key players in managing the affairs of the Assembly. The Government House Leader arranges the daily business of the Assembly in co-operation with the House leaders from the opposition party (or parties).
Each party also appoints a Whip, who ensures that members of his or her party are in the Chamber when votes are called. Whips also keep their members informed of the business before the Assembly and arrange for speakers to take part in debates and committees.
Officers of the House
The Assembly’s presiding officer is chosen by all members and is considered to be above partisan politics. When the Assembly is sitting, it is the Speaker’s job to ensure that legislative business is conducted efficiently and according to the rules. To maintain impartiality, the Speaker does not participate in any debate except to preserve order and decorum.
The Speaker is always treated with the greatest attention and respect by individual members because the office embodies the power, dignity and honour of the Assembly itself. The Speaker must be heard when he rises to his feet, and at that point, no member may speak or seek to be recognized to speak. As well, no member may criticize the Speaker or comment on the Speaker's character and actions.
Members look to the Speaker for guidance in matters of parliamentary procedure. When a breach of the rules is suspected, a member stands in the House to declare a point of order. The Speaker’s decision or ruling on a point of order become precedents or examples that help subsequent Speakers interpret the Assembly's many rules and practices.
The Speaker also acts as the Assembly's ambassador in its relations with other parliaments, governments and the Crown, and attends ceremonies on behalf of members. The Speaker also fulfils an important administrative responsibility as the head of the legislative employees.
By tradition, the Speaker wears a black robe when the Assembly is in session. When entering or leaving the Chamber, the Speaker is preceded by the mace. In medieval times, the mace was a weapon used to defend the monarch, but today it is the symbol of the Crown's authority. It must be placed on the table in the middle of the Chamber in order for the legislature to be properly constituted.
The Clerk of the Assembly and the assisting Clerks sit at the table in front of the Speaker. It is their job to advise the Speaker and other members on the rules of the Assembly and on parliamentary procedure. They are also responsible for all legislative documents, including keeping the official record of Assembly proceedings.
The chief security officer wears a ceremonial uniform and sits at a desk near the door of the Chamber. The Sergeant carries the mace in the opening procession of each day's sitting and enforces the Speaker's orders while protecting the Chamber from demonstrations and disturbances.
The young men and women who work while the Legislative Assembly is in session do a variety of tasks. Pages carry messages between members, run errands, and assist legislative staff. Before each day's session, they place the day's agenda and other necessary papers on members' desks.
The Office of the Clerk is responsible for co-ordinating the procedural, administrative, financial and support services required by the MLAs, the Assembly and its committees. The office is headed by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, who reports to the Speaker and the Board of Internal Economy. The Board is an all-party commission chaired by the Speaker which exercises financial authority for the Legislative branch.
Communication and Technology Services produces a live, province-wide broadcast of all proceedings in the Assembly. CTS also provides computer technological support to the legislative service and the Assembly’s independent officers.
Financial Services ensures that all financial activities within the Legislative Assembly are conducted in accordance with the policies and procedures established by the Board of Internal Economy and the Department of Finance.
Human Resources administers personnel policies and procedures and processes payroll for members and legislative staff.
Parliamentary Publications includes the Hansard Branch, which creates and publishes the Debates (Hansard), a written record of what is said in the Assembly and its committees, and the Journals Branch, which prepares the permanent official record of the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly and the daily order paper.
Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel provides legal advice to members and is involved in the drafting of private members' Bills and amendments to other Bills.
Legislative Library provides information services and background research to meet the needs of members and their staff. Limited access to library resources and services is available to the public.
Office of the Sergeant-at-Arms controls access to and enforces security within the Legislative Building.
Visitor Services tours visitors through the Legislative Building and provides information on other attractions in Regina and Saskatchewan.