Tag Archives: Speaker of the Legislative Assembly

Nathan Cooper

Nathan Cooper claims the throne in Alberta’s latest Speaker election

When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the new Legislature today, the first piece of business they were required to conduct was the election of a Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who will preside over debates and ensure that the established rules of behaviour and procedure are followed.

The Speaker is elected by MLAs through a secret ballot held at the beginning of each legislative session. Candidates are nominated by their colleagues on the floor of the Assembly and voting takes place immediately afterward. 

It has been fairly well known in most political circles that Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper has had his eye on the Speaker’s Chair. Cooper made his intentions known shortly after the election and as former interim leader of the United Conservative Party and opposition house leader, he was well positioned to take on the role. His lack of appointment to the UCP cabinet earlier this month was a pretty definite signal that he would have the support of Premier Jason Kenney and most or all of the UCP caucus in this election.

Heather Sweet NDP Edmonton-Manning

Heather Sweet

As has become the norm in recent years, the opposition also nominated a candidate for the Speaker’s Chair. Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray nominated her New Democratic Caucus colleague, Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet in the election. Sweet had served as Deputy Chair of Committees during the previous Assembly. 

Not surprisingly, the UCP majority elected Cooper as Speaker.

The election of a Speaker through a secret ballot is a relatively new invention in Alberta politics. Before 1993, when the first secret ballot vote took place, the Premier’s choice for Speaker was typically acclaimed by the Assembly.

An exception that I discovered was in 1922, when a United Farmers of Alberta MLA surprised the Assembly when he nominated a Conservative opposition MLAs to challenge Premier Herbert Greenfield’s chosen candidate for Speaker. The Conservative MLA declined the nomination and Greenfield’s choice was acclaimed.

Here is a look at a few of the contested Speaker elections held since 1993:

2015: When MLAs gathered for the first sitting of the legislature following the 2015 election, Medicine Hat NDP MLA Bob Wanner was elected as Speaker. Wanner faced Calgary-Lougheed Progressive Conservative MLA Dave Rodney. The Wildrose opposition attempted to nominate others challengers in a strange attempt to disrupt the process. Wildrose MLAs Angela Pitt and Leela Aheer nominated NDP MLAs Stephanie McLean and Marie Renaud and PC MLA Sandra Jansen, all who declined their nominations.

Laurie Blakeman MLA Edmonton-Centre Liberal

Laurie Blakeman

2008 and 2012: Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman was nominated by her Liberal caucus colleagues in the 2008 and 2012 Speaker elections and was defeated by incumbent Speaker Ken Kowalski in the first election and Edmonton-Mill Creek Progressive Conservative MLA Gene Zwozdesky in the second election.

1997: Barrhead-Westlock PC MLA and former deputy premier Ken Kowalski was elected as Speaker on the second round of voting over Dunvegan MLA Glen Clegg after Highwood MLA Don Tannas was eliminated on the first ballot. Liberal leader Grant Mitchell nominated then-Liberal MLA Gene Zwozdesky as a candidate for Speaker, but he declined to stand.

It is believed that the 18 Liberal MLA votes in that Speaker election helped secure Kowalski’s over Clegg, who was seen as Premier Ralph Klein’s preferred choice. Kowalski’s comeback happened a short three years after he had been unceremoniously booted from Klein’s cabinet.

1993: Liberal leader Laurence Decore nominated Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Bettie Hewes as speaker in 1993, the first time the Speaker was elected by secret ballot. Hewes was defeated by PC MLA Stan Schumacher.


Speaker punches newspaper publisher over wife-swapping allegations, 1935

Oran McPherson

Oran McPherson

A glance through the history of Speakers of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly reveals some fascinating stories. One story really stuck out.

In 1935, Speaker Oran McPherson is reported to have engaged in a heated argument at the top of the rotunda’s grand staircase with Edmonton Bulletin publisher Charles Campbell, who McPherson accused of spreading lies about his divorce. McPherson punched Campbell and he hit a railing and banged his head on a pillar.

It had been reported that McPherson was arranging a “wife-swap” with the aide-de-camp to the serving Lieutenant Governor.

David Swann has served as the MLA for Calgary-Mountain View since 2004. He was Liberal Party leader from 2008 to 2011, and now serves as interim leader of that party.

Notley’s Best Pick for Speaker: David Swann

By: James Lambert

Now that the great orange chinook has finally put an end to 44 years of Progressive Conservative dominance, the hard job of governing Alberta has begun in earnest for Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party. Among the many tasks the new MLAs face, one of their first and most important will be to choose a new speaker of the Alberta legislature. Notley’s caucus is filled mostly with newcomers, but that gives her a unique opportunity to reach beyond party lines for an experienced and steady hand to oversee the chamber: Liberal Leader David Swann.

Pundits have already written extensively about the political inexperience of many of the 49 newly-elected NDP MLAs, though this group nevertheless boasts some very impressive talent, from Joe Ceci (a former 15-year Calgary alderman) to Sarah Hoffman (chair of the Edmonton Public School Board) to Bob Wanner (Public Services Commissioner for Medicine Hat). But it’s still fair to point out that the NDP ranks include only four MLAs with experience in the Legislative Assembly (counting Notley herself), and Notley will need all of them to assume top leadership positions in her cabinet.

At the same time, the speaker of the Assembly must possess an intimate knowledge of the rules of the house, which is why the role is usually held by a veteran MLA and would not be appropriately handed to a freshman lawmaker. That poses a problem for Notley, since she’d rather not have to stretch her already thin senior ranks by nominating any of her most seasoned caucus members to serve as speaker.That’s where Swann comes in. After the NDP’s Brian Mason, Swann, who was first elected in 2004 and is now entering his fourth term, is the second-longest serving member of the legislature (along with PC MLA Dave Rodney). Aside from allowing Notley to hang on to her most experienced allies, there are a number of good reasons for the NDP to tap Swann:

  • Swann’s 10 years of experience makes him well-qualified for the job, and his long record serving Albertans as a physician and human-rights activist suggests he’d offer a measure of humility and compassion that the legislature sorely needs.
  • By going outside her own party, it would signal that Notley is planning a less partisan approach to governance, which would offer a welcome contrast to four decades of polarizing Tory rule.
  • At the same time, it would be seen as an inclusive gesture to the province’s many Liberal voters, some of whom—even those who switched allegiances this time—undoubtedly have placed the NDP on probation. Notley’s crew will face a re-election battle sooner or later, and ensuring these voters become (or remain) part of the NDP’s coalition is a key goal.
  • Not only would it be a magnanimous gesture on behalf of a longtime MLA who is about to represent his party as a caucus of one, it would place Swann in a neutral role where it would be difficult for him to act as an NDP critic. You can bet that the traditional media is eager to write their first stories about the “left in disarray”; this helps forestall that.

Notley’s NDP has already made history in more ways than one: by becoming the first left-of-center party to win an Alberta election in 85 years; by electing the largest-ever number of women to the legislature; and by ending the longest reign of a political party in Canadian history. During those four decades, the Tories never once picked a speaker from outside of the PC ranks. That means Notley can add to her impressive list of firsts by selecting David Swann. It would be good for the NDP, good for the legislature, and above all, good for the province—and Alberta could certainly stand for that.

James Lambert is an Edmonton-based writer and lawyer by training. He is a contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections, a past political campaign staffer, and currently works in the field of alternative dispute resolution as an adjudicator.