Alberta Politics

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.

25 replies on “Notley’s Best Pick for Speaker: David Swann”

While it makes perfect sense for Notley to ask Swann to do it, if for no other reason than saving her experienced MLAs for cabinet posts, the question is whether Swann would be interested. My read is that he enjoys being an advocate too much, and would have to give this up in order to be an unpartisan. That said, he may appreciate the chance to play the role of “elder statesman”. We’ll see.

He would make an excellent speaker. My only concern is that it would somewhat disenfranchise his constituents. Traditionally, their views would be ensured a place in legislative debate through other members of the speaker’s caucus. If Swann were to become speaker, however, he would have to solicit their voice from the caucus of another party – one which his constituents may not have endorsed at the polls.

Then again, this might make his role as more akin to an independent member. When he meets with stakeholders, he gets to ask the additional question: “who would you like me to shop this out to?”

The tactics make sense, but A) can he actually do the job? and B) wouldn’t that mean the end of the Liberal Party?

While David has many admirable qualities and skills, I’m not sure he’s particularly well armed to be Speaker of the House. A deep understanding of rules and a firm hand have never been David Swann strong suits.

And if David is speaker, he cannot engage in debate, effectively removing his party from the legislature. Maybe it’s time, but I have to imagine there’d be a lot of Liberals pretty dissatisfied with that.

If the Liberals have any desire to continue to exist in some form, I doubt that he would accept the speaker role. I would expect that the Alberta and Liberal parties will begin discussion on collaboration/merger, and having two participating members in the legislature becomes significant should that occur. Having said that, he might do it out of a sense of duty given that there are not a lot of options. Notley can’t afford to give up any of her bench strength. But maybe one of the new MLAs with a labour background (that could serve the role.

That’s a lot of potential power to be giving up in a Legislature that may be introducing some major, and potentially filibustered, changes. IMO it’s more important for Notley to have control of the process, even down to the speaker.

Personally I believe this to be a great Idea, I have faith in Notley and her team of new MLAs, I personally believe that the newer you are to the political World (so long as your well versed) the better you are at helping the people, because you have not been corrupted by the inner workings of the Political world. Requesting Swann to be her speaker is a vary smart move on her part as he has the experience and is well respected.
Personally I am happy my vote went to the NDP as I believe they’re our best chance of restoring Alberta to her prime and beauty.

The only thing good about this proposal is that it would shut Swann up with all of his wild accusations and conspiracy theories.

David did not run to be the referee. He is an advocate on issues. He ran to keep the candle burning in the ALP window. As Speaker the Liberals would have no profile or presence in the Legislature at all. Not something they would want to forfeit I am sure!

The NDP won a MAJORITY government, not the Liberals. If they want to build experience in their caucus, they need to place them in roles and not spend time worrying about what if they screw up. In year 1, they have lots of room to grow. By year 4, little screwups will be forgotten.

Further, why on earth would you have someone in that office who could admonish the government, and has a political incentive to do so????

Magnanimity and charity aside, it makes zero sense for the NDP to pick anyone outside of caucus for key roles.

Just so everyone understands, the speaker’s position is selected by the legislature as a whole, not by the premier. Notley can nominate him, but the rest of the MLA’s have to choose him or her.

I suspect this is a dumb question and wouldn’t happen anyway, but can a premier appoint a cabinet minister from outside the party? Has this ever happened before? Does it make any sense in this situation to appoint Swann to a cabinet position?

I believe that mr.swan would make an excellent speaker!i think he would be more fair than outgoing speaker PC GENE SWAZDESKI A PC OF COURSE FOR THE PC PARTY!

Yes you can appoint cabinet ministers from the opposition benches. Alex Ross became cabinet minister in the United Farmers government despite being in the Dominion Labor Party caucus.

In response to Kevin’s comment above, note that the NDP candidate came second in Calgary Mountain View, the riding which was won by incumbent David . So it’s not that his constituents would not have a voice.

The likelihood is that Dr. Bob Turner will be asked to be Health Minister. My guess is that David Swann, who is not an especially partisan man, will see his role as one of working with the NDP Health Minister as well as the Minister of the Environment , on the details of policy. David did little during the election to try to differentiate the Liberals from the NDP and I doubt that that will be his goal in the post-election legislature either. He’s probably just a bit too gentle to be a good Speaker.

Hi Dave
I agree with all the reasons for Dr. Swan, but give pause to consider the fine gentleman from rural eastern Alberta, Dr. Richard Starke. A long time student of parliamentary order, he made an impassioned speech in the house calling for civility, respect and decorum. He taught TUXIS student government the processes and internal workings of the parliamentary system and I am sure has The Beau memorized. A class act, and generous spirit. If I could vote…

I agree that we would make a wonderful speaker but the NDP need to get experience and they cant do that by appointing DDS there are some experienced candidate that could learn and do very well in the position besides the fact that DDS is the only person in his party so they would basicly have no voice as the speaker can’t take part in dibate

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