Nathan Cooper’s second stint in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta will come with a different view than his first four years, after the Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA was selected by his peers to act as the official Speaker of the House.
Cooper, a member of the ruling United Conservative Party, was elected by a majority of MLAs through a secret ballot May 21, when the legislature convened for the start of its 2019 spring session. He beat out Heather Sweet, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Manning, for the role.
“It’s a huge honour to be recognized and selected by my peers to serve the assembly and all of our province,” Cooper said. “My first priority, of course, is to the great constituents of Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills, but I think this is a great opportunity for our region, as well as for me, personally.”
The role of the Speaker is to maintain orderly debate and ensure business in the legislature is conducted according to standing orders and rules.
A self-proclaimed “parliamentary nerd,” Cooper said his love of procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order, as well as his character, are likely why his peers wanted him to take on the job.
“I hope I can bring a calm, cool demeanour into the Legislature and use some humour or brevity into the Speaker’s chair, to make the House a little more relatable and help maintain good decorum,” he said.
Considering the Speaker moderates debates, rather than participates in them, Cooper said he wants his constituents to know he will work with members on both sides of the floor to ensure their concerns are brought forward.
“There are many ways to get tasks accomplished in the Legislative Assembly,” he said. “Asking questions and engaging in debate is certainly one of them, but also, working closely with ministers to accomplish tasks and make progress on items outside of the chamber can be a very effective tool.
“It’s one I hope to use so I can represent the constituents of Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills to the best of my ability and still make sure their issues are heard in the capital.”
This will be Cooper’s second stint as MLA – he served as a member of the opposition from 2015 to 2019.
Familiar with the nature of the legislature, which can be heated at times, Cooper said he will use various tactics to ensure debate stays on track.
“It’s a pretty complex place, the Legislative Assembly,” he said. “It’s unlike any other workplace in many respects, both in the way it’s governed as well as members [being] engaged in a battle of ideas.
“This is how we do battle, in a peaceful manner. We don’t fight wars anymore – which is spectacular – but the debate is often passionate. I think that’s actually a good thing. I just think we need to make sure we do it in a way that Albertans respect.”
Cooper, 39, is the third-youngest house speaker in Alberta’s history and the youngest since 1936, according to a report from CBC.
“It’s a pretty big honour – I’m just the 14th person in Alberta’s history to ever be elected as Speaker, so I take the job seriously,” he said. “I think it’s an important part of our democracy, and one of the things I hope to do is work to engage Albertans in what is the role of the Speaker.”