An Evolving Role
The parliamentary system has changed significantly since the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada first sat in December 1792. The same is true for the office of President.
Origins of the Office
The office of President, or Speaker, originated in the British institutions of the end of the 14th century. The Members of the parliamentary assemblies of that time elected one of their own to speak on their behalf before the king, hence the title of Speaker (Orateur in French).
The Speaker thus occupied the highest political position an elected official could hold in Québec in the first half of the 19th century. In fact, the office of Speaker was the first to become a paid parliamentary position in the early 19th century. The Speaker also acted as leader of the parliamentary majority and as spokesman with the governor of the time.
Until the 17th century, holding the position of Speaker entailed certain risks in England. As spokesman for the House, the Speaker had to convey the Members’ decisions and complaints to the king, with the risk of offending him and being punished for it. In memory of that heavy responsibility, a newly elected President, today’s Speaker, still traditionally feigns resistance when being escorted to the President’s Throne by the Premier and the other party leaders.
The 19th Century, an Age of Change
The introduction of responsible government in 1848 profoundly transformed the Speaker’s role. The ministers became accountable to the Assembly for their acts.
In this new context, the Premier gained in importance while the Speaker lost the role of representing the parliamentary majority. During that period, the office of President as we know it today took on its current form, with the new responsibility of protecting the rights of MNAs.