History of the speakership
The position of Speaker has been a part of the British parliamentary tradition since 1377, serving as a link between the sovereign (the King or Queen) and parliament. Originally the Speaker represented the views of the monarch to MPs (Members of Parliament) but since the English Civil War in the 17th century, the Speaker has been considered the servant of parliament, representing the interests of MPs to the monarch.
How is the Speaker chosen?
In Saskatchewan, the Speaker is an MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) elected by all other MLAs in a secret ballot vote. This election takes place after each general election or when a Speaker dies or retires. The position is open to all MLAs except cabinet ministers or party leaders. The individual chosen must be prepared to serve all members of the legislature equally to keep order in the House.
The Speaker as presiding officer of the House
As the person of highest authority in the House, the Speaker sits on a raised dais at the end of the Chamber, with government members on his or her right and opposition members to the left.
The Speaker is responsible for controlling the flow of House business and acts as “referee” during debates. The importance of this role in ensuring the proper working of the House is emphasized at the beginning of each sitting of the House in the Speaker's parade. The Speaker, accompanied by the Clerks and the Pages, is escorted into the Chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms carrying the mace. The Speaker's traditional robes and court attire help to emphasize his or her neutrality, while the mace is a symbol of the Speaker's authority in the House.
It is the Speaker's duty to ensure that the rules of the House for conducting its business are followed and that all members of the House have an opportunity to take part in debates. 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 difficult tasks. Because it is essential that the Speaker be seen to be above party politics, he/she does not take part in debate or votes unless there is a tie. All remarks made in the House must be addressed to the Speaker, and no Members may stand when the Speaker is standing.
How does the Speaker maintain order?
Members must be recognized by the Speaker before addressing the House. The Speaker may direct a member who has made discourteous remarks, or who has used language not permitted by the rules, to withdraw the remarks in question.
If a member persists in refusing to abide by the Speaker's instructions, the Speaker can name the member, identifying the offending member by their personal name as opposed to the usual practice of identifying the member by the constituency they represent or the portfolio they hold. An example of the traditional language used by the Speaker in naming someone is the following: “John Smith, it is my duty to name you for disregarding the authority of the Chair and direct you to withdraw, for the remainder of this sitting.” This results in a suspension from the House for the remainder of the day or for a longer period of time if directed by the Assembly.
When called upon to decide if a certain action or point is in accordance with the rules of the House, the Speaker can make a ruling on the spot or defer the decision. In either case, the Clerks at the Table are available to give advice on the parliamentary procedures involved.
The Speaker as administrator
The Speaker has an additional role in overseeing a range of services — financial, administrative, legal and informational — provided to all MLAs by officers and staff of the Legislative Assembly. The Speaker acts as Chair of the Board of Internal Economy, a committee on which both government and opposition parties are represented. The Board establishes policies and spending levels for all services and funds provided to MLAs.
The Speaker as official representative of the House
The Speaker is required to represent the House on all ceremonial and formal occasions, including dealings with the Crown and other parliaments and legislatures. This may involve hosting foreign dignitaries or travelling to represent the Saskatchewan legislature at parliamentary gatherings in Canada or around the world.
The Speaker as an MLA
It must not be forgotten that the Speaker is still an MLA. The Speaker must continue to listen to the concerns of constituents and effectively represent them. Constituents may feel there is prestige involved in being represented by the Speaker, but at election time they will still look for evidence that their member has been working on their behalf.
The Speaker requires a broad range of skills and personal qualities to successfully fulfil all the duties of the position. A Speaker needs to be sympathetic, firm, fair and honest at all times, with the ability to remain above the fray in the House, and be a convivial host when the need arises. The position of Speaker is a demanding and challenging one, but one that offers a variety of experiences and rewards.