Is a mace still an appropriate symbol for power in the British Columbia Legislative Assembly?

May 9, 2024 | 42-5, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Statement, Video

As an MLA I often confront my relationship to power.

I remember back to just a few days after I was elected in 2017 into the position often referred to as “the balance of power” I was asked about this in an interview on CFAX 1070. The question was something like, “how does it feel like to have the balance of power?”

I responded that I didn’t view myself in a balance of power, but that I shared a balance of responsibility.

That was an early indication of my relationship to power.

As I have now spent the last seven years watching power move and shape-shift around me, as I have witnessed the gollum’s that power creates and so for one of my recent papers I decided to look more into how MLAs relate to power, the symbols of power, and all the intersections of power that exists in our governance and political systems.


A. Olsen: For the past year I’ve been doing this work as an MLA, and I’ve also been doing graduate studies in leadership at Royal Roads University.

I wrote a paper recently focused on power and our relationship as MLAs to power. Think of all the ways that you intersect with power. It was a profound experience for me to think on this, and the ceremonial mace was a central feature of the work that I did. How many of us have thought about the mace — the type of power that symbolized in that mace? Each day, it arrives, carried by our Sergeant-at-Arms, leading a procession of the Speaker and Clerks. Ever wondered why?

The mace, also known as a bludgeon, is a modified club, often reinforced with stone, bone, bronze, or iron. It’s from the Dark Ages, and our silver one here was made in the 1950s. There is no law or decree that started the Speaker’s procession or giving the ceremonial mace its power. The power comes from what happens when you get bludgeoned by a mace.

In the 14th to 15th century, mayors of British towns had sergeants-at-arms, who carried a mace and for protection for arrests. It was also the sergeant’s standard weapon of choice at the time. In 1414, Henry V appointed Nicholas Maudit the Sergeant-at-Arms for Westminster, and, like the mayors he had seen around, he brought with him his mace. Interesting.

The Speaker at the time was simply just the mouthpiece of the Commons. I’m sorry, Mr. Speaker. But when the Speaker got the protection of the Sergeant and the mace, its power in the mace transferred to the Speaker. And centuries later, in this Speaker’s precinct, what the Speaker says goes.

Power moves in mysterious ways, and the power represented in the mace is a brutish, thuggish, primitive sort of power. Is that the expression of power that we want our democracy represented by?


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