It is a role elected prior to government getting down to work.
The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, at one time, was a position filled by appointment of the premier of the day from the pool of members of the legislative assembly, particularly the MLAs of the governing party.
Today, the Speaker is a MLA elected by secret ballot at the beginning of every new General Assembly. All MLAs are eligible for consideration of election to the position with the exception of the Premier, members of Executive Council, the Leader of the Opposition, and leaders of other political parties sitting in the Assembly (also called the House).
Once elected, the Speaker's first duty is to claim the "ancient and accustomed parliamentary rights and privileges" on behalf of all members, the most important of which is freedom of speech in debate. It is also the Speaker’s duty to preside over the debates and make sure the House follows rules of procedure and behaviour, upholding the individual and collective privileges of the members and of the Legislative Assembly.
On Prince Edward Island, the Speaker’s role is always evolving, but the fundamental responsibilities are to conduct the business of the office in a non-partisan manner and to be responsible for ensuring that all MLAs are treated fairly and impartially. One of the Speaker’s most difficult tasks is to balance the right of the majority to conduct business with the right of the minority to be heard, which given the often adversarial nature of parliamentary business on the floor of the House,- with a majority government and a minority opposition, can result in speaker acting almost as a referee.
On PEI, the Speaker also oversees the operation of the legislative assembly when it is not in session, through the provision of security and the co-management of Province House with Parks Canada.
To date, there have been five women to sit as speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island, as follows:
- Hon. Marion L. Reid – 1983 to 1986
- Nancy Guptill – 1993 to 1996
- Mildred A. Dover – 2000 to 2003
- Kathleen M. Casey – 2007 to 2011
- Carolyn Bertram – 2011 to 2015