TORONTO - Progressive Conservative Frank Klees will fight for the role of Speaker of the Ontario legislature and remains hopeful he will gain the support needed to stay in the race.
Klees played down reports he was thinking about bowing out after angering his caucus, which has complained the move was akin to crossing the floor because it will eliminate the opposition's one-vote advantage.
"I never said I'm pondering dropping out of the Speaker's race," Klees said Thursday, after several articles suggested he was.
"I'm as committed to this as I was the day that I put my name forward."
Klees said he's simply been making calls to assess the kind of support he'll have, and is hoping to have between 40 and 50 members support him by either Friday or the end of the weekend.
"I indicated that is a target that I would have by the end of the week, I don't think that's unrealistic," Klees said.
"Does it mean absolutely if I have 35 and not 40 by the end of the week that I say I'm not going to do this? No."
Klees, who represents the riding of Newmarket-Aurora, said he had received promises of support from several Tories as well as "positive indications" from some Liberals, but wasn't courting any New Democrats because he has been told that caucus was under strict instructions to vote for a Liberal Speaker.
And while he hasn't formally secured anyone to nominate or second his candidacy, Klees said he will have someone in place by the time of the election.
Despite his strong proclamations against dropping out of the race Klees did acknowledge there was a chance that decision would be made for him down the road.
"I believe strongly that my experience in the legislature would serve my colleagues and the legislature well, but I also understand that the Speaker must have the confidence of the House, and it's difficult to function as a Speaker if that's not the case," he said.
"If my colleagues don't embrace the concept of Speaker as I'm putting it forward, I have to accept that."
If Klees wins the Speaker post, the Tories and the NDP will lose their majority of 54 seats, ending up with 53 seats between them — the same as the governing Liberals.
Experts and insiders have argued that math would make his election near impossible, because the move could hand the Liberals a virtual majority.
Some angry Tories have lashed out publicly at their colleague, warning they had no plans to vote for Klees in the Speaker election, while the New Democrats suggested they would vote together to block Klees.
Klees said he was disappointed with some of the responses, but insisted he had support from within the party.
"One of the possibilities, quite frankly, is that some of my colleagues haven't thought this through and have accepted the fact that a Speaker is bound to vote with the government, thereby de facto giving the McGuinty government a majority," he said.
"That is not the case, and I've made that very clear. It is convention, but it is not the rule. The rule is that the Speaker is independent."
There are four Liberals currently in the running for Speaker: Donna Cansfield, Dave Levac, Kevin Flynn and David Zimmer.