Tory Klees faces uphill battle to become Speaker
Published Wednesday, October 26, 2011 3:37PM EDT
TORONTO - Progressive Conservative Frank Klees will face a near impossible battle in his bid for Speaker after angering his caucus and squaring off against Liberals who will themselves be vying for the job.
Klees raised eyebrows Tuesday by announcing that he would run for Speaker, against his party's wishes, in a move that could hand the Liberals a virtual majority and split the vote evenly between the minority Liberals and the two opposition parties.
It's a risky move for Klees and one unlikely to pay off, according to insiders and political experts.
Enraged Tories lashed out at their colleague after his intentions were made public, warning they had no plans to vote for Klees in the Speaker election.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath suggested Wednesday her caucus would also vote together to block Klees.
"We've already made a commitment as a caucus that when we determine what the best interests are, what the best result will be for New Democrats to actually achieve something for Ontarians, that we will vote accordingly as a group in terms of the Speaker's chair," Horwath said.
"I guess that's in some way an acknowledgment that we're concerned about what it does to the configuration of the legislature if we have an opposition member in the Speaker's chair, that's one of the reasons why none of us decided to ultimately make that bid."
There are four Liberals currently in the running for Speaker: Donna Cansfield, Dave Levac, Kevin Flynn and David Zimmer.
The Speaker's job is a prestigious one, and comes with a bump in salary and an apartment at the Ontario legislature. It's also one of the few roles that will see a portrait hung on the walls of the legislature along with one of the premier.
Liberal insiders say they have no plans to discourage interested members from running, even though it would benefit their numbers not to lose a seat to the Speaker's chair.
Premier Dalton McGuinty decided early on that he would govern with the mandate he was given, party sources said, and he's not about to get into a skirmish over one seat.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan echoed that sentiment Wednesday.
"At the end of the day the people of Ontario returned 53 Liberals out of 107, and one or two either way is not going to make a difference," Duncan said.
"What worries me is a divided Conservative caucus, and whether we'll be getting mixed signals from that caucus and whether we can rely on them to deliver."
Progressive Conservative Peter Shurman dismissed those claims and defended Klees, whom he backed in a failed bid against PC Leader Tim Hudak for the party's leadership.
"I assure you, as a person who's been appointed to a significant set of roles in our caucus, that the caucus is anything but divided," said Shurman.
"We are completely intent on going into a renewed parliamentary situation."
Despite rumblings to the contrary, Shurman insisted Klees would be welcomed back into caucus were he to lose his bid for Speaker.
"I would describe him as a friend and I would tell you that his motivations in everything he does are, in his own mind, certainly the best that they can be, and he believes that what he's doing is for good and valid reasons," Shurman said.
Newly elected Tory Monte McNaughton said party members were shocked and disappointed by Klees' decision, but agreed he would be welcomed back.
"I hope he realizes the impact this is making on party supporters and I hope he reconsiders his decision," McNaughton said.
Henry Jacek, a politics professor at McMaster University, said Klees would be more likely to head to the private sector in the event of a loss, noting relations between him and his party will remain strained.
"He probably figured this is how he'd end his legislative career," Jacek said.
Jacek pegs Levac as the most likely winner, since he is a well-liked member who has been quietly campaigning for the role for some time.
If an opposition member were to win the Speaker's job the Liberals would likely prefer an NDP Speaker to one from the official Opposition, he added, especially one like Klees, who has suggested he won't necessarily vote with the government in the event of a tie, as convention dictates.
If Klees is defeated he could also choose to sit as an independent, however, because that would give him the balance of power.
There is still time for more members to put their names forward, since the Speaker won't be chosen until the day before the House returns.
Candidates can be nominated until right before the votes are cast, and the winner will be chosen through a secret ballot.
Once the Speaker is chosen the legislature can resume with a throne speech, and while the Liberals have yet to set a date for the House to come back it's expected to be up and running by mid-November.