Q2. What or who is “the Speaker”?

The Speaker is the MLA chosen to act as the legislature’s referee

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A2. The Speaker is the presiding officer of the House.

The Speaker is always an MLA.  The Speaker is elected by the other members.  If there is a majority government, the reality is that the government members will always elect one of their own members to be the Speaker.  The last time the Speaker came from the opposition was 1999 (Ron Russell, Progressive Conservative, Hants West).

The current Speaker is Kevin Murphy (Liberal, Eastern Shore).

The Speaker sits in a chair on a raised platform at one end of the legislative chamber. On the Speaker’s right is the government, and on the Speaker’s left is the opposition.

The Speaker’s role is to be a “servant of the House”, not the servant of the government. In other words, he is supposed to do what is best for the House as a whole. It is like playing a hockey game where the teams pick one of the players to be the referee.

The Speaker does not vote unless there is a tie.

Ironically, the “Speaker” is the MLA who speaks the least in the House. The Speaker never participates in debate. If the Speaker wants to participate in debate, he or she must leave the chair. In my twelve years in the legislature, I saw that happen only twice.

In the United Kingdom, the MP who becomes the Speaker leaves the party caucus (which in the UK is very loose anyway) and runs in the next election as The Speaker, not on behalf of any party.

In Nova Scotia, the Speaker remains as a member of his caucus (and so far in Nova Scotia it has always been a “he”, which is kind of startling, in a bad way). There is a convention that the Speaker does not attend caucus meetings while the House is sitting. There is also a convention that the Speaker tones down the partisanship in public statements. In all other respects, the Speaker is a party member and runs under the party banner in the next election. Conventional wisdom is that being Speaker increases an MLA’s chances of being re-elected.

Q1. When can the legislature be recalled?

The legislature can be recalled at any time

A1. The legislature can be recalled at any time.

Normally 30 days’ notice is required to recall the House, but the House rules also state that the legislature may be recalled at any time by the government, in consultation with the Speaker, when it is in the public interest to do so. That’s how the legislature was recalled on very short notice to meet on Monday, December 5, 2016, and that’s how it was recalled to meet on Monday, February 13, 2017—which was pushed to Tuesday, February 14th, because of a blizzard—to deal with Bill 75.

Normally the Nova Scotia legislature sits for two months in the spring, and one month in the fall. The spring sitting typically starts during the last week of March or the first week of April, and fall sitting typically starts around the end of October or beginning of November. But it’s really up to the government.