EDMONTON — Alberta’s new government under Premier Rachel Notley has yet to meet in the legislature, but there’s already heated debate over the impartiality of the next Speaker.
Bob Wanner, the incoming MLA for Medicine Hat, confirmed Monday that Notley took a direct role in getting him nominated to be, in effect, the next referee of the legislature.
“There was a caucus meeting (Sunday). The premier nominated me as a candidate,” Wanner said in an interview.
“It was voted on and endorsed by the New Democratic caucus, and I agreed to accept the nomination.”
He said he is reaching out to all parties in the coming days and would serve all without fear or favour.
“I would hope that in the vein that we’re all hoping for that we will have a process that all of the 87 MLAs have trust and confidence in the Speaker,” he said.
No other MLA has publicly announced a desire for the job. The current Speaker, Tory Gene Zwozdesky, was defeated in the May 5 election.
The Speaker will be chosen by a majority of MLAs in a secret ballot in the house on June 11.
The Speaker, while coming from one of the parties in the house, has a critical role as an impartial arbiter, deciding which questions can and can’t be asked and disciplining members as required.
It’s a role that parliamentary tradition demands be as free of partisanship as possible.
Wildrose house leader Nathan Cooper said Wanner’s impartiality is now in question given that as Speaker he may be asked at some point to rule against Notley, the person who effectively got him the job.
“How can this guy rule against the premier when he’s the premier’s choice?” said Cooper in an interview.
Cooper said Wanner did not help his impartiality pledge by boasting to a local newspaper that being Speaker gives him direct access to Notley and other cabinet ministers.
Cooper also noted that Notley and the NDP, while serving in opposition in February, criticized then-premier Jim Prentice for ordering an independent all-party of the legislature to meet and rescind a vote to give more money to the auditor general.
“This is a perfect example of that same sort of activity, the premier engaging or overruling a legislative process,” said Cooper.
Notley’s office, in an email, did not respond to questions about Notley’s role in selecting Wanner, but said that overall nothing untoward was done.
“This is not a nomination, this is an endorsement and the NDP caucus, like all caucuses, has the right to meet and decide who they would like to see serve as speaker,” wrote Notley’s spokesperson, Cheryl Oates.
“There will still be a secret ballot where every member of the legislature can openly vote for whomever they choose.”
The NDP has 53 members in the 87-seat legislature. The Wildrose has 21, PCs have nine, while leaders Greg Clark of the Alberta Party and David Swann of the Liberals also sit in the house. There is one vacancy and one Independent.