PEI Speaker of the Legislature Kathleen Casey called on attending partisan political meetings for the Liberals
By Paul McNeil, Eastern Graphic May 11, 2011 – Being Speaker of the PEI legislature is a job with perks and prestige few can match. It comes with a very significant salary of $103,818 (slightly less than that of a cabinet minister), a car, dedicated staff, very few demanding days, and the ability to take part in international conferences in far-flung places around the globe.
Featured image caption: Sean Casey celebrates election win May 2, 2011 with Kathleen Casey, his wife and the Speaker of the PEI Legislature.
In return taxpayers expect the Speaker to uphold the Westminster tradition of impartiality in operation of the legislation.
For the most part Speakers rise to the occasion, understanding that the job demands an avoidance of ordinary partisan politics. For instance, they don’t attend caucus meetings with their fellow MLAs or MPs.
Since assuming the chair Kathleen Casey has done a reasonably good job. She has a command of the rules and control of the house but does not normally place herself at the centre of attention. Exactly what taxpayers, and the opposition, want in a Speaker.
Some will argue her tie-breaking vote on Sunday shopping broke a long-standing tradition that Speakers never vote to alter the status quo. That is a matter of valid debate.
What isn’t a matter of debate – to anyone but rabid Liberals and the Speaker herself – is that she has tossed aside tradition by attending nomination meetings for provincial Liberal candidates.
It is a no-no expressly forbidden in other jurisdictions including Ontario. The PEI legislature has never bothered to write the rule down. And Casey is now using that lack of formality to her own advantage.
The Speaker claims she would never do anything to compromise her ability to be impartial in the house. She has it backwards. It has nothing to do with what she thinks. It has to do with what the public thinks. And if the Speaker of the PEI Legislature is trotting off to Liberal Party functions months before a provincial election, Islanders will rightly believe that her impartiality is down the tubes.
The Speaker was quick to demand an apology from Opposition Leader Olive Crane for using unparliamentary language in accusing Premier Ghiz of misleading Islanders. While Olive Crane’s language may seem soft to some, the tradition being upheld is important. In the pursuit of truth MLAs are immune from defamation law when speaking within rails of the legislature. The trade-off to this important right is that MLAs must use civil language. Crane’s words crossed the line.
If that tradition is important enough for Casey to so aggressively uphold, so is the tradition that demands Speakers not partake in any partisan activity. And whether she likes to admit it or not, Liberal nomination meetings are highly partisan. Separating her Liberal ties to her Speaker’s role is even more important now that her husband Sean Casey is now an elected MP for Canada’s third party (Liberal Party of Canada) in Charlottetown.
If Casey wants to be partisan she should quit being Speaker and either request a cabinet position or sit in the Liberal back benches. Otherwise Speaker Casey should respect the same traditions she imposes on others.
Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Note: Kathleen Casey was replaced as Speaker of the PEI Legislature in fall of 2011 for reasons unstated by the Government. At the time of the Spring 2011 sitting she was openly participating in partisan political events as witnessed by the picture taken May 2, 2011 at the victory rally for her husband in the Federal election. Featured image: The Guardian. This story from the Eastern Graphic was lost on the internet and re-printed in the interest of maintaining the political history of Prince Edward Island.