The Speaker, elected by all Members, assumes the position of highest authority in the Legislative Assembly and represents 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. Often, the Speaker officially welcomes 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 Speaker controls debates in the Chamber and ensures that Members follow the rules and practices of the Legislative Assembly as they ask or answer questions, debate or vote. The key aspects of being Speaker are authority and impartiality. The Speaker does not take part in debates, ask or answer questions, or vote, except to present the Legislative Assembly’s budget or to break a tie. All questions and statements during a formal sitting must be directed through the Speaker.
Third, the Speaker is responsible for the daily administration of the Legislative Assembly. The many Legislative Assembly employees who provide services for the Members report to the Speaker. If the Speaker cannot be in the Legislative Assembly Chamber, the Deputy Speaker will assume the role of Speaker.
In carrying out their duties, the Speaker is assisted by the Clerk’s Office. The Clerk is the chief procedural advisor to the Speaker and to Members of the Legislative Assembly. The Clerk is responsible for a wide range of duties relating to the proceedings and official records of the Assembly and its committees.
The Clerk sits directly in front of the Speaker at the Clerks Table. The Deputy Clerks, the Clerk of Committees, Operation Assistant Clerk and the Law Clerk provide assistance to the Clerk. They keep the official records of the Assembly and advise the Speaker and Members on parliamentary and legal procedure.
Like all Members of the Legislative Assembly, Speakers are first elected in one of the 19 territorial constituencies. Members elect the Speaker by secret ballot at the beginning of the first legislative session following a Territorial election or at any time a vacancy occurs.
The Speaker also attends to the many tasks of being an MLA, such as responding to the concerns of their constituents.
The name Speaker was first used long ago in England. The original job of the Speaker was to communicate information to the King or Queen on behalf of the House of Commons - the commoners. The Speaker presented petitions and grievances on behalf of these people. If the requests angered the Monarch or threatened the Monarchy's power, which they often did, the Monarch sometimes took revenge by taking the Speaker's life. In parliamentary history, at least nine Speakers died violent deaths for telling kings and queens news they did not want to hear. Some historians have indicated that the original purpose of the opening procession was to provide Speakers with bodyguards to protect them from harm as they entered the Assembly Chamber.
The first Speakers were appointed by the Monarch, not by Parliament. Over the centuries, Monarchs turned many of their powers over to Parliament. During the change in power, the Speaker's loyalty shifted from the Monarch to the House of Commons. By the end of the 17th century, the Speaker was an appointee of Parliament and not of the Monarch.