Role of the SpeakerThe Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is a Member of the Legislative Assembly elected by secret ballot at the beginning of every new General Assembly; in fact, the Speaker must be elected before the new government can begin its work. All Members are eligible to be elected as Speaker, except for the Premier, Members of Executive Council, the Leader of the Opposition, and the leaders of other political parties in the Assembly. Once elected, the Speaker's first duty is to claim the "ancient and accustomed parliamentary rights and privileges" on behalf of all Members, the most important of which is freedom of speech in debate. Along with this privilege, it is also the Speaker's duty to preside over the debates and make sure the House follows rules of procedure and behaviour, upholding the individual and collective privileges of the Members and of the Legislative Assembly.
The Office of Speaker has a long and colourful history. In the book "The Office of Speaker in the Parliaments of the Commonwealth", Philip Laundy states;
"The Office of Speaker is almost as old as Parliament itself. The first Speaker to be so designated was appointed in 1377...the principal function of early Speakers was to communicate the resolutions of the Commons to the King..., and it may be presumed that some kind of intermediary between Parliament and the King came into existence when the English Parliament first assumed its rudimentary form."
Today on Prince Edward Island the Speaker's role is always evolving, but the fundamental responsibilities of the office are of paramount importance. The Speaker must conduct the business of the Office in a non-partisan manner and is responsible for ensuring that all MLAs are treated fairly and impartially. 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. Given the often adversarial nature of parliamentary business on the floor of the House - with a majority Government and a minority Opposition - the role of the Speaker is often referred to as being similar to that of a referee!
The Speaker also serves as chair of the Standing Committee on Legislative Management and of the Standing Committee on Legislative Audit, and as President of the Prince Edward Island Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, representing the Legislative Assembly at regional, national and international meetings of the association. The Speaker also oversees the operation of the Legislative Assembly when it is not in session, through the provision of security and the co-management of Province House with Parks Canada.