A ‘new future’ opens as Driedger takes on powerful speaker’s role in MB legislature

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

– William Shakespeare

Myrna Driedger, MLA Winnipeg Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

This quote may be true, but I also believe that our destiny calls us and whispers to us along life’s way to pull us in the direction we are supposed to go. With each twist and turn, each new experience serves as a stepping stone to a new life adventure. The stars line up and we arrive where we are supposed to be at that point in time.

Taking on the new role as speaker of the Manitoba legislative assembly has been a bit scary, intimidating and at the same time thrilling and invigorating with the challenges of learning new skills and reinventing myself to meet new challenges.

Myrna DriedgerWho knew when I graduated from nursing years ago that it would lead me on a path of entering politics, becoming an MLA, and serving now in a new role as speaker of the Manitoba legislative assembly? I am excited and honoured to take on this role. As past chair of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canada, and vice-chair for CWP International, we worked for better representation of women in legislatures throughout Canada as well as strategized on gender-related issues. This experience had made me realize that to be elected as speaker is indeed an honour. Out of the 29 speakers that have held this role in Manitoba, I am the fourth female. The other three were Thelma Forbes in 1963, Myrna Phillips in 1986, and Louise Dacquay in 1995.

To give you an idea of the role of the speaker and its responsibilities, and to give you an idea of the learning curve ahead, I include the following excerpt from documentation of the Manitoba government website.

The speaker, elected in a secret ballot by all members of the assembly, occupies the position of highest authority in the legislative assembly, representing the legislature in all its powers and proceedings. The duties of the office fall into three categories.

  • First, the speaker acts as a spokesperson of the assembly in its relations with authorities outside the legislature. The speaker officially welcomes delegations and visitors to the legislative assembly.
  • Second, the speaker presides over the sitting of the assembly and enforces the rules, order and conduct of business. The two key aspects of this part of the speaker’s role are authority and impartiality. The speaker does not take part in debates, ask or answer questions or vote, except to break a tie. The speaker controls debates in the chamber, and all questions and statements during a formal sitting must be directed “through the chair”. The speaker ensures that members follow the rules and practices of the assembly as they ask or answer questions, participate in debate or vote.
  • Third, the speaker is responsible for the daily administration of the legislative assembly. The many assembly employees who provide services for members report to the speaker.

The legislative assembly classroom and Teachers’ Institute on Parliamentary Democracy, legislative assembly administration and finance also fall under the speaker’s purview. The speaker also enjoys and takes pride in the “speaker’s outreach program” where he/she along with the local MLA and a table officer visit schools, so that students gain a better understanding of Manitoba’s system of democracy.

The speaker is also the chairperson of the legislative assembly management commission, which is responsible for the financial management of the assembly and establishes budgets and administrative policies for assembly offices. LAMC also reviews the budgets of the independent officers who report to the assembly (the auditor general, the chief electoral officer, the children’s advocate, the ombudsman and the conflict of interest commissioner).

As I move into this new role, I remind myself that in the old days, hundreds of years ago in England, the speaker would speak to the King or Queen on behalf of the entire assembly. If the monarch did not like what the speaker had to say the speaker could literally lose their head. With this thought I pay homage to the speakers who preceded me, and I am grateful that the beheading of a speaker is no longer in practice.

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