The custom of selecting a "Speaker" as
official parliamentary spokesperson dates back to the British Parliaments of the
14th century. Early Speakers were messengers who conveyed the monarch's
wishes to Parliament and Parliament's to the monarch. In the beginning,
they were the monarch's servants, but during the long power struggle between
Parliament and the monarchy, the role of the Speaker changed dramatically.
In 1642 a conflict between Charles I and Parliament redefined the Speaker's
role. Charles barged into the House to arrest five members who opposed
him, but Speaker William Lenthall refused to turn them over, saying he was the
House's servant and would follow only its direction.
Historically, the Speaker's job could be hazardous.
Nine speakers lost their lives, many of them beheaded for bringing bad news from
Parliament to the monarch, and new Speakers often had to be forced to take over.
Today, newly elected Speakers commemorate this part of their history by
pretending to struggle as they are led to the Speaker's chair.
Physical danger does not stalk modern Speakers,
although they are still at the centre of debate between opposing sides.
Today they are referees whose primary role is to enforce the roles of
parliamentary procedure and oversee parliamentary administration. Speakers
are also defenders of parliamentary privilege. In all cases, Alberta's
Speakers are expected to be nonpartisan.