Ontario's Liberals may end up with a virtual majority despite falling one seat short after a Progressive Conservative announced Tuesday he would be running for Speaker of the legislature.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he offered Frank Klees two prominent critic portfolios to keep him in the opposition benches but was turned down.
"We're surprised and disappointed that Frank has decided this is a better approach for him," Hudak said after unveiling his shadow cabinet.
"I had hoped that Frank would be there with us."
The move is a major blow for Hudak, who made some gains in the Oct. 6 election but lost the race for premier despite going in with a significant lead. If Klees wins, the Tories and the NDP will lose their majority 54 seats, ending up with 53 seats between them, the same as the Liberals.
Klees, who had run unsuccessfully against Hudak in the Tory leadership race, said his decision in no way reflected dissatisfaction with his leader or with the PC campaign.
"I'm not crossing the floor. I'm a Progressive Conservative. I always will be," Klees said in an interview.
"I'm looking at this next number of years. I don't know how long this government will survive, but I do know that it is going to be challenging at times and I felt the best way I could make my experience available to the legislature is in the role of Speaker."
Klees also dismissed suggestions that he would be helping the Liberals, even though in the case of a tie, the Speaker traditionally supports the government.
"I'm an independent thinker and I'll continue to be guided by that," said Klees, who represents the riding of Newmarket Aurora.
"While convention is that [the Speaker] would cast the vote with the government, that's not a rule — the speaker always has the prerogative to cast a vote based on what he or she believes is the right thing to do, and I'll conduct myself accordingly."
Both Hudak and the New Democrats had vowed not to put any candidates forward as Speaker, which would force the Liberals to put a candidate forward and further weaken their numbers.
Major role offered: Hudak
Hudak acknowledged Klees' decision will make things more challenging for the opposition, and said he worked hard to keep Klees among his ranks, even offering him one of the most important roles available: the "Jason Kenney of the PC caucus."
The job, which references the federal minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, will be particularly important after the Tories failed to make any inroads in the Toronto area — the very same ground that helped the federal Conservatives win a majority mandate earlier this year.
"We won the election outside of Toronto but we got our butts handed to us in Toronto, and we need to change that," said Hudak.
"That's why the role of outreach for our caucus and citizenship and immigration will be very important as well to reach out to new communities. Frank has declined that position."
Hudak denied that the decision reflected poorly on his leadership or suggested any disarray in his party, saying simply: "Frank is Frank."
Tory insiders fumed at the move, however, saying it was a nasty manoeuvre that came as a shock, especially after everyone agreed not run at last week's caucus meeting because it was equivalent to crossing the floor.
The Liberals may support the bid, said a senior Tory, but Klees shouldn't expect any votes from his fellow Tories.
"There's a lot of very angry Conservatives out there and very angry caucus members," said the source, adding that Klees was effectively handing the Liberals a majority.
The Liberals have yet to nominate anyone for Speaker but will be putting forward names even though Klees has now given them the option to keep all their 53 members firmly planted on their benches.
The New Democrats unveiled their own shadow cabinet Tuesday, giving all 17 members a posting and promising each of the critics will hold the Liberals to account.