An Independent politician has been named Speaker of the New Brunswick legislature, all but guaranteeing that Premier Bernard Lord's shaky Conservative government will survive for a while longer.
Michael (Tanker) Malley, who represents the provincial riding of Miramichi Bay-du-Vin, was the only member of the legislative assembly to let his name stand for the Speaker's job when the spring sitting opened Tuesday.
The Speaker's job gives Malley an office staff, a cabinet minister's salary and greater prestige than that of a lonely Independent.
Malley's new job means he will not vote except in the case of a tie, and tradition dictates that the Speaker does not defeat the government on a budget motion.
Such a motion will be voted on late next week. The Lord government brought down a balanced budget just hours after Malley's appointment Tuesday.
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It racked up spending of $6.2 billion as it distributed corporate tax breaks and funding for energy bill relief, education and health care.
Liberals cry foul over Malley's new job
Liberal House leader Kelly Lamrock bitterly accused Lord of buying Malley's co-operation on the pending budget vote by not allowing any of his own caucus members to seek the Speaker's position. Traditionally, the Speaker is chosen from the government ranks.
"The premier told us that he was too ethical to offer any position to keep his government [alive]," Lamrock said.
"Obviously I'm reminded of the old quote, 'We know what he is, and now we're just dickering over the price.' "
Currently, the New Brunswick legislature has 27 Progressive Conservatives, 26 Liberals, one Independent (former Liberal Frank Branch) and the Speaker.
Even if all the Liberals and Branch vote together, they don't have the numbers to defeat Lord's minority government.
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Malley was first elected in 1999 and sat as one of Lord's Progressive Conservatives until mid-February.
He left the Tory caucus after a mid-term cabinet shuffle, sparking a furious and public debate among prominent members of the party.
Malley told reporters he quit because he disagreed with the direction of the government, but the premier told a different story.
- FROM FEB. 21, 2006: Malley denies allegations of blackmail
Hours after Malley resigned from the party, Lord held a news conference claiming Malley had threatened to walk unless Lord met a series of conditions.
One was a judicial appointment for prominent Tory lawyer Cleveland Allaby, a friend of Malley's.
Malley denied the premier's version of events; neither man has backed down from his story.
Former Tory speaker Bev Harrison, who was appointed to cabinet during the last shuffle, said Tuesday that Lord had nothing to do with Malley getting the Speaker's job.
Harrison said he'll be glad to help Malley settle in: "He wants to know the protocol of the job, and how things work, and I'm prepared to help him in any way I can."