Statement concerning status of the Leader
of the Official Opposition by Alberta Speaker Gerald Amerongen, March 11, 1983
The background: Four opposition members were elected in the provincial
election held on November 2,1982; two members of the New Democratic Party
(including party leader Grant Notley) and two independent members one of whom
(Ray Speaker) was the Official Leader of the Opposition for the Social Credit
Party during the previous legislature. Both Mr. Notley and Mr. Speaker asked to
be recognized and enjoy the status as Leader of the Official Opposition in the
The ruling (Speaker Gerald Amerongen): lam grateful for the helpful and excellent briefs
provided by the hon. opposition members. Six of these have come from the
Independents; four others, plus a supplement, have been provided by the N D P.
It is plain that none of the hon. members of the opposition regard the matter
as being simple. The NDP briefs were each over 120 pages, including supporting
The excellent and thorough research done by
the opposition members and their research staffs was augmented by the careful
work of the research section of the Legislative Library.
A review of over 500 pages of material thus
provided shows that no directly applicable precedents or compelling answers
have been found in the experience of any of the parliaments of the Commonwealth
or in any of our rules or statutes.
In fact there are precedents for not recognizing
any Official Opposition. In such a case, of course, there would be no Leader of
the Official Opposition. The first question then is: does there need to be such
a designation made for and in this House?
There are five reasons why the answer is
The Legislative Assembly Act does not in any
way make it obligatory to have such a leader, but it assumes that there will
one and provides, for example, for a special salary. Of course, if for any
reason there is no such person recognized, then it is impossible to pay the
salary. However, to have such a leader can be an advantage to the opposition,
or at least to that part of it that may be recognized as the Official
I am assuming that during the term of this
Legislative Assembly, an electoral boundaries commission will be appointed. The
Electoral Boundaries Commission Act requires that two members of such a
commission be nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.
Our rules of procedure, which we call the
Standing Orders, also mention such a leader several times and imply that there
will be a person holding that office.
Under our Standing Orders, the time limit
for speeches by the Leader of the Opposition is 90 minutes instead of 30. If no
one is recognized as holding that office. the opposition will lose that
additional debating time.
The Leader of the Opposition has the right
to designate some items of Assembly business for special attention or priority.
Without such a leader, the opposition may lose those opportunities.
It is clear that if any reasonable basis can
be found to recognize an Official Opposition and its leader, that should be
All opposition members agree that the
question of recognition is a duty of the Speaker. It is not a government
matter, nor a political or party matter. It is true that in Alberta prior to
1970, once or possibly twice the government seems to have become involved when
there was a question of amending the Legislative Assembly Act to divide or
change the amount of the opposition leader's special honorarium. Apart from
those very rare exceptions, it appears that whenever the question has arisen,
it has been a matter for the Speaker to deal with.
It is a question of a status within a
parliament. Hence a determination should. if at all possible, be based on
circumstances within the Assembly.
No precedent or rule has been discovered or
given to me where the designation of an Office Opposition has been based on
circumstances outside a parliament. However, given the need to make such a
decision, it does seem advisable that if factors within these four walls do not
provide a solution, one must go outside for an answer based on well-known
Our hon. colleagues the Independents have
emphasized that the decision must be made mainly on the basis of incumbency and
continuity. Their argument says, in effect, that since the hon. Member for
Little Bow (Ray Speaker) was Leader of the Opposition in the 19th Legislative
Assembly, he is now an incumbent. Hence, the Independents conclude that where
no other opposition group is larger than the one a former opposition leader
leads, there is no one to replace him and, on the basis of continuity, he is
still to be recognized as Leader of the Official Opposition. However, no
precedent shows that incumbency or continuity has been the deciding factor, or
any real factor at all, in recognizing an opposition leader.
There are, of course. examples where an
opposition leader in one parliament has been recognized in the next. In each
such example, there were reasons other than incumbency or continuity for the
renewed recognition. The briefs and research do not show that a person became
leader of an opposition by reason only of having been the leader previously.
If there were an incumbency rule, it would
have to apply to individual members and the positions they previously held.
However, we are dealing with recognition of a group. That is so because all the
Speaker can really do is to recognize an Official Opposition; it is up to that
group to designate its own leader. Hence, the incumbency or continuity argument
would have to be stretched to say that an incumbency held by three members of a
party in the last House continues to be held by two members who are not of a
party in this House.
Another argument by the Independents that
may be said to be in-House goes under the name of seniority. The reasoning
under this heading is that where there is no other way of deciding who may lead
the opposition, one must count the number of years of service as a member and
give the nod to the member with longer service. This overlooks the essential
that group recognition comes first and leader recognition is the decision of
that group. Longer serving members are often given special deference in our
parliaments, but that deference is not a basis for rights. Seniority does not,
in our parliaments, confer the acknowledged rights or pre-eminence that it may
command in elected Houses south of our border.
A third in-House factor could be the
declaration signed by the two Independent members that they will work as a
team. At the most, this could have the effect only of making the two opposition
teams equal in the Assembly.
There is an argument submitted by the hon.
members of the NDP based on a section of the Legislative Assembly Act which
deals with a "recognized party". However, the recognized party
concept does not apply at all. Firstly, the Legislative Assembly Act requires
that there be a minimum of four members in a recognized party. Secondly, a
recognized party is a second opposition group, over and above an Official Opposition.
Then there is a further argument by the NDP
members based on the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act. The
NDP organization, outside the House is a registered party under that Act.
However, that Act says absolutely nothing
about what goes on in the Legislative
Assembly. Instead it regulates the collecting. donating, and spending of money
for political purposes.
None of the research has indicated any Act
or rule which would provide a reasonable basis for a decision in the present circumstances.
A still further suggestion by the NDP
members is that customarily an Official Opposition is composed of elected
members of a party. That does indeed appear to be the case. During the period
of service of my predecessor in this Chair, the Rev. Peter Dawson, some
Independent members did in fact constitute the Official Opposition in the
Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Their leader was recognized as the Leader of
the Opposition. A great deal of material from the Journals, newspapers, and
other sources was submitted to help establish whether or not the Independent
members in those days were in fact members of a political party. It does appear
that in many ways the Independent movement, as it was sometimes called, acted
as a political party. The NDP argument, then. is that where there is an
equality in numbers, as there is here, between two groups each claiming the
designation, it should go to that group whose members belong to the same party.
It does seem that the limited validity of
that idea must be recognized. It is limited because if there were within this
House a majority team in the opposition composed of Independents, there is
simply no question that that team would have the right to be designated as the
Official Opposition, regardless of whether its elected members belonged to any
One ought to hesitate to make a decision in
this matter on the narrow point just mentioned. There is, however, a
circumstance outside the Assembly which also has some significance in relation
to work done inside the Assembly. It is this: party organizations outside the
Assembly are known to assist members with their work in the Assembly. In the
present case, that also must be taken into account because of the equal numbers
of the two opposition teams in this House.
Then there is the so-called popular vote
argument. It can be verified by the figures published by the Chief Electoral
Officer that the NDP candidates throughout the province garnered in the last
election almost as many votes as all the other non PC candidates combined. This
argument is somewhat overstated, however, when a claim is made that all those
who voted for the candidates of a certain party throughout the province are
represented by the candidates of that party who were elected.
It must be recognized that many voters vote
for a candidate rather than for a party. Obvious examples are the members of
this House who were elected as Independents, without party lies. Another very
clear example is that of our former colleague Mr. Gordon Taylor. He has retained
his support and has been successful whether he ran as a Social Crediter, an
Independent, or a Progressive Conservative.
If as MLAs we represent only those people
who voted for us or for our respective parties, then that must necessarily mean
that no one represents those who voted for parties that elected no candidates:
the Liberals. Social Credit, Western Canada Concept, or Alberta Reform
Movement. There's little doubt that every member of this House would reject the
notion that she or he does not represent all of his or her constituents.
Nevertheless it must be acknowledged that in
many instances, voters who belong to or support a party may prefer to go with
their concerns to elected members of that party.
Given the need to designate an Official Opposition
so that its leader may serve as Leader of the Official Opposition, and given
also the equality in numbers between the teams seeking the designation and for
the reasons mentioned above, I recognize the hon. members for Spirit
River-Fairview (Grant Notley) and Edmonton Norwood (Ray Martin) as the Official
Opposition, at least for the time being, in this 20th Legislative Assembly.
I say "for the time being" only
because this choice stands on a narrow base. A significant change of
circumstances within the House could easily compel a change in that
recognition. The hon. members I have just referred to have fairly acknowledged,
in their brief of November 15, 1982, that a change in numbers might necessarily
require a change in designation. They said: "Numerical superiority would
provide adequate argument for a group of Independent Members forming the
Official Opposition". Clearly this is so.
Just as the Independents have indicated that
their leader would be the hon. member for Little Bow (Ray Speaker), so too the
NDP members have indicated that their leader is the hon. member for Spirit
River-Fairview. Therefore, I have the honor to recognize now my colleague the
hon. member for Spirit River-Fairview as the Leader of the Official Opposition.