The Speaker’s job is to preside over events in the Legislative Assembly, acting as a kind of referee to ensure that everyone obeys the rules. The Speaker also helps conduct the business of the House-the making of laws. It is a big job because the rules are complex, but every Speaker has a staff of procedural advisors. These advisors work under the direction of the Clerk of the Assembly.
The duties of the Speaker do not end in the Chamber. They also include managing the operations of the Legislative Assembly, serving as the Chairperson of various Committees, and serving as the President of Manitoba Parliamentary Associations. The Speaker acts as the official ambassador of the Legislative Assembly, meeting with visiting elected officials from all over the world and representing Manitoba in other provinces and countries.
Inside the Legislature, the Speaker’s Office is in the Speaker’s Gallery. The ‘gallery’ refers to a beautiful hall with portraits of former Speakers. It is a humbling experience to walk past it coming into the office, and also during the Speaker’s Parade. It helps to connect current speakers to the history of our role and remind us that we are part of a custom so much bigger than us as individuals.
Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly, most of the portraits I walk past are men. This isn’t surprising because men have been elected in higher numbers than women at all levels of government and more often held the role of Speaker in Manitoba’s history. There have been four female speakers in all of Manitoba’s history. I’d like to highlight the female Speakers that we have had in our great province.
Thelma Forbes is the first female Speaker in Manitoba’s history. She presided over the house from 1963 until 1966. What I would not give to hear about her experience in the house! In addition to the role as Speaker, she held the constituency of Cypress.
The next female Speaker was elected two whole decades after the first female speaker in 1986. Myrna Phillips sat in the Speaker’s Chair from 1986 until 1988. In addition to her role as Speaker, she held the constituency of Wolseley.
The third female Speaker in Manitoba’s history is Louise Dacquay. Speaker Dacquay presided over the Manitoba Legislative Assembly from 1995-1999 and served as the MLA for the constituency of Seine River.
Then there’s me! I am the fourth female Speaker in Manitoba’s history having been elected to the Speaker’s chair by my colleagues in 2016. This is my second term presiding over the house from the Speaker’s Chair. Despite having been an MLA all these years before becoming the Speaker, I have learned so much during my time in the Speaker’s Office. Many people associate the Speaker with what happens in the House. Things like the triangle hat and Speaker’s Robes, keeping order and decorum during debate (and often calling out “order…order!”), and making rulings, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. When I’m not in the Chamber, I’m very busy with my administrative duties like managing the operations of the Legislative Assembly, serving as chairperson on various committees, and acting as the official ambassador of the Legislative Assembly with dignitaries from all over the world. I often connect with my counterparts all over the country and represent Manitoba at conferences. It’s a big job and one that I am so grateful to have been elected by my colleagues to.
In addition to my role as Speaker, I am the Member of the Legislative Assembly for the constituency of Roblin, which consists of the communities of Charleswood and Headingley.
So far, in our history, Manitoba has only had four female Speakers. I am confident that our province will have many more. I find myself inspired by those who have come before me and I hope that I, too, can help inspire the generations of those who will come after me. It’s important to remember that young people need to have examples to look up to in all professions. Girls and young women need to see that they can become politicians and hold roles like the Speaker of the Assembly. You cannot be what you cannot see. I hope that in the years to come, there will be just as many women Speaker’s portraits in the Speaker’s Gallery as there are portraits of male speakers!
Hon. Myrna Driedger is MLA for Roblin and Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.