Saturday, August 21, 1999 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Ted Pritchard / Herald Photo
Murray Scott, a former police officer in Moncton and Springhill, was elected Speaker on Friday. The Cumberland South MLA may wind up determining which party will sit as the official Opposition.

Police skills asset for Speaker

By David Jackson / Provincial Reporter

Premier John Hamm best summed up the selection of the House's new Speaker: "What better person to police the House than a policeman?"

Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott, a 19-year veteran of the Moncton and Springhill police forces, was the only person nominated for the position Friday during a special one-day session to elect the Speaker after MLAs were sworn in.

Mr. Scott, 46, said it is an honour to be chosen, and he thinks his background in law and order will serve him well in the sometimes raucous legislature.

"I'm looking for full co-operation from all members of the House and I hope that I can bring some . . . fairness to all members of this House so the views of all are held in the highest of standing."

The Speaker's responsibilities include presiding over the legislature, security inside and on the grounds of Province House, and overseeing the administration of more than a dozen government offices, including the parties' caucus offices, and the Hansard reporting service.

Mr. Scott, who takes over from fellow Tory Ron Russell, will receive the same salary as a cabinet minister - $83,605.

His first task, which he called both a "major" and "important" decision, will likely be to select either the Liberals or NDP as the official Opposition party.

The parties are tied with 11 seats each after judicial recounts in Cape Breton East, Shelburne and Antigonish.

But the numbers could change.

There's another recount scheduled for Monday in Yarmouth, where Tory Richard Hurlburt beat incumbent New Democrat John Deveau by 53 votes.

And in Shelburne, Liberal Clifford Huskilson, who ended up losing when returning officer John Swimm pulled Tory Cecil O'Donnell's name from a box to break a tie on Tuesday, could ask the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to call a byelection.

Mr. Scott said his decision would take days, or possibly weeks, to make as he tries to find precedents in Canada for breaking such rare ties.

"It's going to take some time for me to get my head around it," said Mr. Scott, who was first elected to the House last year.

The two opposition parties would like to help him with that job, both saying they'd be willing to argue their cases with the Speaker.

John Holm, the NDP House leader, said his party is doing research on the matter and should remain in Opposition because the party had that status in the last legislature.

But Liberal House Leader Manning MacDonald said since his party formed the last government, it should now slide into the role of Opposition.

During the 14-minute House sitting, the Liberals sat where the Tories sat during the last session - in the area for the third party.

But the Grits didn't bother putting names on the desks, even for the short session.

"We're not sending any signals out that we're prepared to sit in there as third party," Mr. MacDonald said. "We feel that we should be the official Opposition and we're maintaining that."

At stake is more money for office expenses and extra pay for the leader.

Last year, the Opposition received an annual office budget of $341,000, while the third party got $197,000.

The Opposition leader gets $83,605, the same as a cabinet minister, but the third-party leader gets paid the MLA base of $46,550 and half of a cabinet minister's extra pay.

The official Opposition also gets to fire off the first question in question period and give first responses to the throne speech and budget address.

Mr. Scott said he would want to make the decision before the House opens for the fall session. That date hasn't been announced.

Only 49 of the province's 52 MLAs were sworn in Friday morning.

New Democrats Howard Epstein and Eileen O'Connell were both on vacation, and Mr. Hurlburt is waiting for Monday's recount in Yarmouth.

Copyright © 1999 The Halifax Herald Limited