New Brunswick

Former speaker weighs in on brewing stalemate in New Brunswick legislature

It’s an important and prestigious role and one required for the legislature to sit, but, according to a former speaker, it’s unlikely candidates from any party will be rushing to fill the seat.

Bev Harrison sat as speaker during the Bernard Lord governments

Neither the Liberals or the Progressive Conservatives are likely to put forward one of their members to be speaker, says a former speaker of the New Brunswick legislative assembly. (CBC)

A stalemate is looming in the New Brunswick legislature: Who will become speaker of the legislative assembly?

It's an important and prestigious role and one required for the legislature to sit, but, according to a former speaker, it's unlikely candidates from any party will be rushing to fill the seat.

Bev Harrison, a long-time Tory MLA who served as speaker in the Bernard Lord governments, said the one-seat advantage the Progressive Conservatives hold over the Liberals means electing a speaker could be tricky.

Former speaker and longtime MLA Bev Harrison says the two parties trying to form government need every vote possible on the floor, and so neither one is likely to let an MLA become speaker. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

The position, which is elected from the pool of MLAs, is supposed to be neutral. However, the speaker only votes to break a tie, primarily to keep debate going or the government from falling.

This is where it gets messy under the current makeup of the assembly. As Harrison said, the two major parties vying for power need every vote available in the legislature and so will make sure their caucus members are removed from the ballot for the position of speaker. He said it's also unlikely the third-party MLAs,most of whom are rookies, would put their names forward.

With 22 and 21 seats, respectively, both the PCs or the Liberals fall short of the 25 needed for a majority, making every vote crucial in attempting to even form government, let alone pass legislation.

Some of the scenarios are discussed in the video below:

No party has a majority. So what happens next?

4 years ago
Duration 2:14
New Brunswickers have elected the first legislature since 1920 where no party has a majority. What happens next?!

Any way you split it, the speaker could be called upon to break more ties than usual in this legislature.

"Whoever you get would have to say to themselves, 'My heavens, I am going to be sitting in a constant, not just once-in-a-while, it's all going to be me voting for or against,'" Harrison said.

"Who wants that job? I would say nobody, for that reason."

And the job, even in a more straightforward legislature, comes with its challenges, he said.

"Your government, your party, will kind of push you around a bit. 'In a tie vote we expect you to vote with us all the time,'" said Harrison, who "reluctantly" took the role.

"So speakers are in a pressure cooker, because they keep their party affiliation but they're technically neutral."

Incentives

For all the headaches, there are incentives that come along with the post.

An extra $52,614 is added on top of the MLA salary, along with an extra few thousand in allowances. And the speaker can choose to drive a government car.

Work with people, work for people and stop this working against them.- Former speaker Bev Harrison

The position isn't for everybody. Harrison said it requires someone willing to be non-partisan and stick to the rules and precedents.

As someone who enjoys the parliamentary aspects of the government, Harrison said the job turned out to be "tailored" for him — once he was persuaded to take it on.

Amid the political gamesmanship, he said it's an opportunity to shift away from the heavy partisan politics that have consumed the legislature.

"Work with people, work for people and stop this working against them," Harrison said.

"There are times you sit in the chair and you look at the opposition coming up with a very good idea and you know it's going to be shot down because it's theirs. That's wrong."

With files from Catherine Harrop and Roger Cosman

now