David Carter was first elected to
the Alberta Legislative Assembly in 1979. In May 1993 he retired after seven
years as Speaker, fourteen years as an MLA and thirty-three years of public
In my opinion the most interesting
challenge in any legislature is that of the office of Speaker. In June 1986 and
again in 1989 I was elected to that Office. Fortunately I had been in the House
for seven years prior to being elected to the Chair. That first day of being
dragged to the Chair was exciting and fearful as I had only ten days to
prepare. In 1989, three years later, I was not only dragged but carried to the
Chair by Premier Getty and the Opposition Leader Ray Martin. I had learned what
an almost thankless job the Speaker has. Nothing prepares you for that first
day in the Chair. Nothing prepares you adequately for Question Period. Members
call to you — yell at you — many notes arrive while you are trying to keep track
of questions and answers for decorum and length. Purported points of order and
privilege are thrown in for good measure. Procedural questions are added to the
mix together with requests for emergency debates, valid and invalid petitions,
notices of motions, tabling of returns, committee reports and through it all
while some of the Members are in an uproar the Speaker must be that rarest of
birds — calm, collected, wise with an even disposition.
To be "in the Chair" is
intimidating and stimulating. One needs to be a combination of traffic
controller, judge, counsellor, organizer-extraordinaire. You must be a defender
of parliament as well as a facilitator. Outside the House you are an
administrator of a service oriented department, an ambassador for the province,
a parliamentary salesperson and all that in addition to your work on behalf of
your constituents as an MLA or MP.
Over the years the legislative
staff and I worked together on a complete re-vitalization of our services to
the public and to Members. Whether it was Personnel Services, Library, Hansard,
Security, or Visitor Services, we greatly improved our interpretive outreach.
Now educational programs, videos, pamphlets and books are prepared. A mobile
display was taken to schools, conventions and community fairs to attempt to
take the Legislative Assembly to the "grassroots".
A deliberate plan was initiated in
1986 to bring the Assembly to the forefront in terms of word processing,
electronic mail and other services to better and faster serve the public. By
way of example, in 1986 it took three days for Hansard to arrive in the House —
in early 1987 it was available the next day.
In 1987 the Chamber and adjacent
areas were upgraded for the first time in thirty-five years. This enabled the
Chamber to become more accessible to the handicapped and in particular the
galleries became the most wheelchair accessible of all the Canadian legislative
chambers. The Chamber was also enhanced electronically and acoustically and
returned to its original architectural integrity.
Many Ambassadors and High
Commissioners as well as Royalty paid visits to the Legislature and the Speaker
has a rare opportunity to meet with people from around the world. The Speaker
must also spend a certain amount of time meeting with elected members of other
jurisdiction. In 1989 as Chairman of the Canadian Region of the Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association I hosted the Regional Conference in Alberta which
brought together parliamentarians from across Canada.
I treasure the friendships with
parliamentarians and particularly fellow Speakers. Our common interest was the
defense of parliament for once in the Chair we do indeed by interest, issues
and passage of time become truly non-partisan. Our greatest mutual achievement
was the Supreme Court of Canada decision which entrenched Parliamentary
Privilege as beyond the scope of the Charter of Rights.
The development of Canada-US
relations on a parliamentary basis was a great project for some of us. The
annual conferences of the National Association of State Legislatures was an
obvious meeting ground — friendships developed there which were then translated
into regional relationships. Together with the Speakers from Manitoba and
Ontario I met often with legislators from the American Mid-West Legislators. I
was fortunate to be invited to speak to the Senate and House in both Idaho and
Washington states as groundwork for what is now a co-operative project known as
the Pacific North West Economic Region which includes Montana, Idaho,
Washington, Oregon, Alaska, British Columbia and Alberta.
Personally I decided after 8,328
questions that it was time to return to other aspects of my life — family,
friends and other interests such as Canadian history and preservation of
Now is a challenging time to be in
political life. The world is in stressful economic times — political turmoil
continues, freedom and safety are denied many people. Mere survival is often a
daily struggle. In Canada deficit control is a haunting spectre — there is not
enough money to be found. "The Public" seems to want elected people
who are "absolutely above reproach" and who will work for almost
nothing. Many electors have no realization how hard an MLA, or MP works nor do
they care what personal or family price you will pay. But my old tricorn hat
goes off to all the new legislators in Ottawa and in the provinces who take on
the challenge of being true parliamentarians.