Any eligible voter can run as a candidate for election to the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. Members generally serve in government or in opposition and act in agreement with party policy, although membership in a political party is not an official requirement of elected office. If a member changes parties or chooses to sit as an independent, he or she is not required to resign.
Members are elected to represent the specific interests of their constituents but are also representatives of the province of Saskatchewan and must consider the province’s needs as a whole. Whatever their political outlook, and regardless of which side of the Assembly they sit on, members’ duties and obligations are considerable.
Members of the Legislative Assembly
Saskatchewan is divided into 61 electoral districts called constituencies. Each constituency elects a single Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) 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.
Speaker 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.
Responsibilities in the Assembly
The Legislative Assembly convenes for two sessions during the year. The fall session begins with a Speech from the Throne and continues for 25 days. The spring session, which contains the budget debate, begins in March and lasts 40 days. Members are required to attend every day the Assembly sits.
Members take their legislative duties seriously because they know the laws they pass directly affect Saskatchewan citizens. When Members of the Legislative Assembly debate, analyze and amend Bills (proposed laws) on a wide variety of issues, they often draw on their own life experience and expertise. Preparation for a debate also involves research, consultation with experts, and writing and delivering a speech that reflects the member’s concerns as well as those of his or her constituents.
As members review the clauses of a Bill in the Assembly or conduct a line-by-line examination of the provincial budget in committee, the ensuing debate generates publicity that helps to form public opinion. This in turn influences the government’s decisions. Therefore, members’ expression of support or opposition to the government has a critical effect.
For three days of the week, the Assembly considers items of business proposed by the government. On Thursdays, priority is given to items initiated by backbench members, including Bills, motions that raise issues for debate, and requests for information.
Responsibilities in the Constituency
Due to their knowledge of services offered by various levels of government and community groups, members are uniquely qualified to help constituents resolve their problems.
Members need excellent interpersonal skills to understand and defend their constituents’ interests. They may need the skills of a social worker to effectively solve constituents’ pressing personal problems. Members often act as a mediator to resolve a clash of interests within their constituencies or between their constituents and other groups. They may have to advocate on behalf of the community or explain the provisions and effects of proposed legislation. They are often called upon to play a public role during local events and ceremonial occasions.
Contacting Members in the Assembly
During session, members are likely to be in the Assembly on Mondays to Wednesdays from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Evening sittings may occur on Mondays and Tuesdays from 7:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. Members may also attend legislative committee meetings, caucus meetings, and other events in the Assembly outside of session.
Contact information for a member’s legislative office and for each party’s caucus office is available here or in the Government of Saskatchewan blue pages in the telephone directory.
Contacting Members in Their Constituencies
Every member maintains at least one constituency office that they work from when the Assembly or its committees are not in session. Some large rural or northern constituencies may have satellite offices in order to serve the needs of more distant electors. When the legislature is sitting, Fridays are regarded as “constituency days” so that members may meet with constituents and attend events in their local area.
Contact information for a member’s constituency office can be found here. It is also listed in the white pages of your local phone directory, or available through the party’s caucus office.