Back to top

History of the Speaker

In British parliamentary history, the first person to hold the position now recognizable as Speaker was Peter de Montfort, who presided over Parliament in 1258.  He was appointed as the parlour, mouth, or proluctor of the King.  He acted as the spokesperson or speaker for the House to the King. At first, speakers were appointed for only one year.  Indeed, many speakers didn’t last that long. 

A dangerous role

Early on, parliaments had no real power other than to provide funds for the Crown.  As such, the Parliament and the Speaker were treated with contempt by the monarchy.  Seven Speakers were beheaded by the King between 1394 and 1535 for not doing as he wished. As a result, the role of the Speaker was not sought after by Members of Parliament as it is today and that history explains why elected Speakers feign resistance when they are escorted to the chair.

Challenges to the King

Below are a few early instances that helped solidify the status of Parliament and of the Speaker:

1523 Sir Thomas More “stood up against both Henry VIII and … Cardinal Wolsey, insisting on the Commons’ right to a voice in State affairs” (Marsden, p. 95). While in the Tower of London for his offences, he stated that he “preferred to die rather that to agree that ‘Parliament could make the King supreme head of the Church’” (Marsden, p. 95).

1626 Sir Henrich Finch, in his address to King Charles I, on the occasion of his election to the Speakership, stated, “I shall neither disable nor undervalue myself, but with a faithful and cheerful heart apply myself with the best of my strength and abilities to the performance of this weighty and public charge” (Marsden, p. 96).

1642 Sir Finch’s successor, William Lenthall, remarked to King Charles I when he stormed Parliament looking to arrest five members for treason, “Sir, I have ears to hear and lips to speak that the people shall command me!” (Marsden, p. 97).

167? Sir Edward Seymour refused to attend King Charles II who wished to prorogue parliament, because the supply bill had not been returned from the House of Lords.  Seymour famously stated, “he would sooner be torn by wild horses than quit the Chair”. When he was re-elected to the Speakership, the King refused to approve his appointment (Marsden, p. 99).

1708 Sir Richard Onslow was elected Speaker of Parliament. He was an expert in the precedents and proceedings of the House of Commons.  His “unyielding insistence on the observation of proper protocol … increased the prestige of his office, both within the House and outside ... The whole House referred to him as ‘Stiff Dick’” (Marsden, p. 101).

The Speakership in Nova Scotia

In Nova Scotia, the fight for parliamentary authority, including the speakership, was less dramatic, but no less important.  In 1758, the first bill the House of Assembly attempted to pass was one establishing its authority.  The Governor and Council, however, refused to approve this bill and many others.  They, just like Great Britain, saw the House as a bit of a nuisance.  The first bill that was finally passed established duties on the import of rum.  The House was used for funds just as it had been in Britain. Gradually the Council recognized the status of the House and the Speaker.

Below are a few events in the history of the Speaker in Nova Scotia:

1806 Governor Wentworth refuses to accept William Cotnam Tonge as Speaker of the House of Assembly. The House elects a new Speaker, but in the Address in Reply to the Throne they show their dissatisfaction by stating, “we lament that Your Excellency has been pleased to exercise a branch of His Majesty's prerogative, long unused in Great-Britain, and without precedent in this Province” (Journal and Proceedings of the House of Assembly, 1806, p. 11).

1825 Samuel George William Archibald, Speaker, and James Boutineau Francklin, Clerk, are the first presiding officers to wear wigs and gowns in the House of Assembly chamber.

1841-43 Joseph Howe is Speaker of the House while he is a member of the Executive Council (Cabinet).

Speakers of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly (1758 – present)

Title Party Term yearssort descending
Robert Sanderson 1758-1759
William Nesbitt 1759-1783
Henry Denny Denson 1773 (pro tem)
Thomas Cochran 1784-1785
Sampson Salter Blowers 1785-1788
Richard John Uniacke 1789-1793
Thomas Barclay 1793-1799
Richard John Uniacke 1799-1805
William Cottnam Tonge 1805-1806
Lewis Morris Wilkins 1806-1817
Simon Bradstreet Robie 1817-1824
Samuel George William Archibald 1825-1840
Joseph Howe 1841-1843
William Young Reformer 1843-1854
Stewart Campbell Liberal 1854-1861
Alexander C McDonald Liberal 1861-1863
John Chipman Wade Confederate 1864-1867
John Joseph Marshall Anti-Confederate 1868-1870
Jared Ingersoll Chipman Troop Liberal 1871-1874
John Barnhill Dickie Liberal 1875
Mather Byles DesBrisay Liberal 1875-1876
Isaac Newton Mack Liberal 1877-1878
Ebenezer Tilton Moseley Liberal Conservative 1879-1882
Angus McGillivray Liberal 1883-1886
Michael Joseph Power Liberal 1887-1894
Frederick Andrew Laurence Liberal 1895-1901
Thomas Robertson Liberal 1902
Frederick Andrew Laurence Liberal 1903-1904
Edward Matthew Farrell Liberal 1905-1910
George Everett Faulkner Liberal 1910-1911
James Fraser Ellis Liberal 1912-1916
Robert George Irwin Liberal 1917-1925
Albert E Parsons Liberal Conservative 1926-1928
Daniel George McKenzie Conservative 1929-1933
Lindsay Cann Gardner Liberal 1934-1938
Moses Elijah McGarry Liberal 1939
Gordon Emerson Romkey Liberal 1940-1953
John Smith McIvor Liberal 1954-1956
Walter Selby Kennedy Jones Progressive Conservative 1957-1960
Harvey Alfred Veniot Progressive Conservative 1961-1968
Gordon Howard Fitzgerald Progressive Conservative 1969-1970
George MacGregor Mitchell Liberal 1970-1973
James Lawrence Connolly Liberal 1973-1974
Vincent James MacLean Liberal 1974-1976
George Raymond Doucet Liberal 1977-1978
Ronald S Russell Progressive Conservative 1978-1980
Arthur Richard Donahoe Progressive Conservative 1981-1991
Ronald S Russell Progressive Conservative 1991-1993
Paul W MacEwan Liberal 1993-1996
Wayne J Gaudet Liberal 1996-1997
Gerald Fogarty Liberal 1997-1998
Ronald S Russell Progressive Conservative 1998-1999
Murray Scott PC 1999-2006
Cecil P. Clarke PC 2006-2007
Alfie MacLeod PC 2007-2009
Charlie Parker NDP 2009-2011
Gordie Gosse NDP 2011-2013
Kevin Murphy Liberal 2013-2021
Keith Bain PC 2021-2023
Karla MacFarlane PC 2023