The Speaker of the House of Assembly
The Speaker is the key figure in the House of Assembly, a position that is open to all Members of the House of Assembly (MHAs) except Party leaders and Cabinet Ministers. He/she is elected in a secret ballot by other Members immediately following each general election, or when a vacancy occurs. The Speaker must maintain order in the House in an impartial manner and serve all MHAs equally.
History of the Role
The Speaker has been part of the British parliamentary system since 1377. The Office emerged when the Commons – the ordinary people – needed a person to bring their messages (often complaints or grievances) to the Monarch. This was by no means a safe or easy thing to do as the King or Queen was not always pleased with these messages. Some of the Speakers during that time met a violent death, and for this reason the potential spokesperson usually had to be pressured into accepting the responsibility.
Responsibilities of the Speaker
The responsibilities of the Speaker can be divided into four categories:
- Presiding Officer
One of the main responsibilities of the Speaker is to ensure that the Rules of the House are followed. The Standing Orders – the House rules of parliamentary procedure – must be enforced by the Speaker to ensure that all MHAs have the opportunity to participate in debate.
Another important role of the Speaker involves the internal administration of the House of Assembly – overseeing the day-to-day operations of the various divisions and offices. The Speaker acts as the Chair of the House of Assembly Management Commission, a committee on which both Government and Opposition parties are represented.
- Official Representative
The Speaker is responsible for representing the House of Assembly on all ceremonial and formal occasions, including dealings with the Crown and with other parliaments and Legislative Assemblies.
- Member of the House of Assembly
The Speaker remains impartial and must avoid taking public positions on politically controversial matters. While no longer a member of a caucus, he/she continues to represent a district within the province, serving as an MHA.
Speaker of the 47th General Assembly
The current acting Speaker of the House of Assembly is the Hon. Wade Verge. He became acting Speaker on September 5, 2014.
Contact the Office of the Speaker
Office of the Speaker
Main Floor, East Block
P.O. Box 8700
St. John's, NL
Phone: (709) 729-3404
The Speakers’ portrait collection which encircles the Chamber of the House of Assembly is a proud testimony to the history and the governance of Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1949, shortly after Newfoundland joined Canada, Premier Joseph Smallwood commissioned the artist Richard Steiger to paint portraits of all of the pre-Confederation Speakers of the House of Assembly. Steiger was paid a lump sum of $6000.00 to deliver 26 framed portraits to the House. When the portraits were completed, the following speech was made in the House of Assembly:
"…we are reminded of the men who played a big part in the pages of Newfoundland history...they should serve us as an example of modesty, to be modest in our own ideas, not to think too much of ourselves, not to feel we are the only statesmen in the world, the only ones that God created in this country. I think I heard someone say one time: ‘The men here are the finest body of men who ever sat in this House.’ "
- John G. Higgins, Leader of the Opposition, while speaking about the hanging of portraits
of pre-Confederation speakers in the House of Assembly in 1951.
In 1949, no likeness of the second Speaker of the House, Thomas Bennett (1788-1872), could be found, thereby preventing his portrait from being painted. The collection remained incomplete until 2008 when, after a three year search of local, national and international sources, a photograph of Speaker Bennett was discovered in England in the private collection of one of Bennett’s descendants. Newfoundland and Labrador artist Gerald Squires was commissioned to paint Thomas Bennett’s portrait, which was unveiled in the Chamber on April 22, 2008, thereby filling a 171 year old gap in our legislative history.
|1866-1870||William V. Whiteway|
|1870-1874||Thomas R. Bennett|
|1877-1879||James S. Winter|
|1898-1901||Henry Y. Mott|
|1905-1910||Francis J. Morris|
|1910-1914||William R. Warren|
|1914-1918||John R. Goodison|
|1918-1920||William J. Higgins|
|1920-1923||William F. Penny|
|1923-1924||Harry A. Winter|
|1928-1932||Albert J. Walsh|
|1933-1934||James A. Winter|
|1934-1949||Responsible Government Suspended|
|1949-1956||Reginald F. Sparkes|
|1956-1962||John R. Courage|
|1962-1972||George W. Clarke|
|1975-1979||Gerald R. Ottenheimer|
|2014-||Wade Verge (Acting)|