Steve Thomson

STEVE Thomson, MLA for Kelowna-Mission, was on Thursday elected the Speaker of the B.C. Legislative Assembly.

Thompson resigned as Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations to become the Speaker.

Linda Reid, the current Minister of Advanced Education, was the previous Speaker.

Andrew Weaver, Leader of the B.C. Green Party, congratulating Thompson, said: “I could not think of a more exceptional choice to guide the business of the legislature. Mr. Thompson has the respect of all the MLAs in the legislature and brings experience, dignity and honour to his new position.”

 

ROLE OF SPEAKER

 

(From Legislative Assembly of B.C. website)

 

The Speaker is a key figure in the Legislative Assembly.

The Speaker is an MLA elected in a secret ballot by all Members of the Legislative Assembly to preside over debates and ensure that the Assembly’s established rules of behaviour and procedure are followed.

The election of the Speaker is the first item of business for a new parliament and is open to all MLAs except cabinet ministers. It takes place on the first sitting day after each general election or when a Speaker resigns, retires or dies. If there is not a Speaker in place, the Legislative Assembly cannot proceed with its business until one is elected. The election of the Speaker is presided over by the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

The Speaker is neutral, responsible for making sure that all MLAs, no matter what party they belong to, are treated fairly and impartially. He or she votes only to break a tie.

 

The Speaker as MLA

 

The Speaker, when elected, does not stop being an MLA. That means that while remaining neutral and avoiding taking public positions on politically controversial matters before the Legislative Assembly, the Speaker must still continue to listen to the people of his or her constituency and to effectively represent their interests. The Speaker does this by making private recommendations to government and organizations on issues affecting his or her constituents. The Speaker, however, does not attend caucus meetings.

 

The Speaker as Presiding Officer

 

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 important responsibilities.

The primary role of the opposition is to question government actions and present alternatives to government positions. While this kind of adversarial system is a cornerstone of democracy, debates can, like a hockey game, sometimes get heated. The Speaker serves as a very necessary referee, ensuring fair play by all MLAs.

It is the Speaker’s job to enforce the Standing Orders — the rules of parliamentary procedure adopted by the Legislative Assembly, which are designed to make sure that debates in the Chamber are properly carried out and that all MLAs have the opportunity to participate.

These rules require all MLAs to show respect for the Speaker and for each other. For example, members must not speak unless “recognized” (allowed to speak) by the Speaker and must not interrupt when the Speaker is speaking.

In addition, to discourage personal attacks, MLAs must address the Legislative Assembly through the Speaker at all times, rather than addressing each other directly. When referring to one another, they must use the name of an MLA’s constituency (e.g., “the honourable member for Victoria–Beacon Hill”) rather than the MLA’s actual name.

This helps maintain order and decorum in the Legislative Assembly. In a spirited debate, the Speaker can act as a buffer between members, and heated words may be less inflammatory when directed through the Speaker. The Legislative Assembly is a forum for robust debate, not merely a polite debating society.

If an MLA does not obey the rules and makes inappropriate or discourteous remarks, the Speaker will ask the member to withdraw those remarks. If the member does not comply with the Speaker’s instructions, the Speaker has the power to order the MLA to withdraw from the Chamber for the day. For more serious offences, the Speaker “names” the MLA, which means the MLA may be suspended from the Legislative Assembly without pay for anywhere from one to 15 days.

If the MLA refuses to leave the Chamber as requested, the Speaker may ask the Sergeant-at-Arms to remove the member. In such a case, the offending member may be suspended for the balance of the session.