TORONTO - Progressive Conservative Frank Klees abandoned his campaign to become Speaker of the Ontario legislature Friday after a week of angry reaction from his fellow Tories.
Klees, 60, the member for Newmarket-Aurora, issued a two-line statement saying he was dropping his controversial bid for the Speaker's position, which he launched in defiance of an order not to seek the job from PC Leader Tim Hudak.
"I am announcing that I will not be pursuing the position of Speaker, and am looking forward to playing a meaningful role in the PC caucus and the Ontario PC Party," Klees said in the release.
Hudak promptly installed Klees in his shadow cabinet as critic for transportation and infrastructure.
Klees stunned political observers, and his own party, Tuesday by turning down a role in the PC shadow cabinet and announcing his intention to run for the Speaker's job.
At the time, a grim-faced Hudak said he had hoped Klees would be supporting the caucus, but complained "Frank choose a different path."
Other Tories were more open about their feelings Klees had betrayed them, saying his decision to run for Speaker was tantamount to crossing the floor to give the Liberals their majority.
The Conservatives and NDP don't want to see a Speaker come from their ranks because it would eliminate the one-vote majority the opposition parties hold over the minority Liberal government.
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said Klees's decision to break ranks shows the Tories are divided after failing to win the election.
"There's no question that the Conservative party now is having some challenges," said Duguid.
"(That's) to be expected; they didn't get the results in the election that they were looking for."
The Liberals were reduced to 53 seats in the 107-seat legislature in the Oct. 6 election, and if a Liberal is elected Speaker, as the opposition parties want, it would mean the Liberals would be two votes short of a majority on most bills.
However, if Klees was elected Speaker, it would mean the Liberals could govern as though they had a virtual majority, knowing the Speaker, by convention, usually votes with the governing party.
Klees, who lost two earlier bids to become leader of the Progressive Conservatives and abandoned a run at the leadership of the old Canadian Alliance Party, said he wouldn't necessarily vote with the government as Speaker, undermining any Liberal support he may have had.
It was considered unlikely that Klees could secure enough votes to become Speaker with the Tories and New Democrats expected to vote against him en masse, while the Liberals are expected to vote for one of their own.
Every member of the legislature can vote for Speaker in a secret ballot held one day before the legislature resumes with a speech from the throne. No date has been set yet for a resumption of the legislature following the election, but it is expected to sit starting in mid-November.
There are at least four Liberals in the running for the Speaker's job, which pays almost $153,000 a year and comes with an apartment in the legislature building. Former cabinet minister Donna Cansfield wants to become the first female Speaker, and is facing off against Liberal veterans Dave Levac, Kevin Flynn and David Zimmer.
The NDP made it clear they will not field any candidates for Speaker so as not to weaken the opposition benches.
Many Conservatives expressed anger and frustration with Klees throughout the week, accusing him of undermining Hudak's leadership but stopping short of threatening to kick him out of the PC caucus.
That's because they don't want him sitting as an independent who would have to be courted by all three parties for every vote, nor do they want him resigning, which would force a byelection that would give the Liberals another shot at gaining a majority.
Klees is very right-wing in his social positions and is considered an unlikely candidate to cross the floor to join the Liberals and give them their majority that way.