A critical part of any legislative assembly, whether it’s the federal House of Commons or a provincial legislature is the Speaker of the House.
The Speaker is an elected member of the Legislature, and is elected BY the member of the Legislature to run the House. The Speaker ensures that the House conducts its affairs to Parliamentary procedure, and has strict written rules and guidelines under which he must operate. The French use the term, “President” for Speaker (“Monsieur le President” – or “Mr. President”.) This is the traditional use of the word as well – to Preside. The Speaker, therefore, presides over the House. He’s the chairman.
Ken Kowalski must really be feeling the heat in Alberta. The winds of change are blowing, and indications are that Alberta is about to undergo one of the political earthquakes that periodically happen – where the voters sweep one party out of power, replacing it with another that has, until becoming government, been virtually unknown.
This time around, the party that seems about to make major gains is the Wildrose Alliance Party, led by Danielle Smith. Recently, Paul Hindman captured a seat in the previous Tory stronghold of Calgary-Glenmore in a by-election, and more recently, two Tory MLAs crossed the floor to join the Wildrose Alliance in the Legislature, bringing the caucus to 3.
The last provincial election saw the Liberals form the official opposition with 9 MLAs, and the NDP elected two, with the remaining MLAs elected as Tories. The thing is, House rules state that in order to receive a “leader’s allowance,” (which means funding for research and parliamentary work) a caucus needs to have four MLAs. Caucuses with less than four MLAs were considered simply to be independent MLAs with minimal funding and assistance.
After the last election, however, an exception was made for the NDP, and they were granted official party status, with the appropriate funding and allowances that go along with it. This has been done before in previous Legislatures as well, to ensure the opposition can do its job effectively.
Now that the Wildrose Alliance has more Members than the NDP, a request was made to the Speaker for a similar exception to be made. It seems only reasonable, given past precedent.
Speaker Ken Kowalski, however, seems pusillanimous when the party that is rising in popular support threatens his job – he stripped official party status from the NDP, and refused it to the Wildrose Alliance. Each party is now allotted two questions in Question Period (due to time constraints, effectively this means just one each if they’re lucky) and members from the PC caucus are still permitted to ask softball questions taken from party press releases.
An effective Opposition is critical in a Legislature – it keeps the government accountable and on their toes. An effective opposition scrutinizes and points out problems with the operation of government. Without that scrutiny, corruption, largesse, and excess begin to flourish.
I wonder what, by denying the Wildrose Alliance and NDP the opportunity to be as effective, Ken Kowalski hiding. Is there something he doesn’t want uncovered, or is he trying to silence the people he’s frightened will kick him out of his chair?
The answer to that question is likely, “both.”