Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Frankly Speaking

November 1, 2011

Speaker of the Legislature

By now, anyone who was tuned in to any form of media over the past week will know that I had put my name forward for the position of Speaker of the Legislature. You will also know, that what ensued was a media frenzy that turned my best intentions to serve as Speaker into a firestorm of controversy. The flames of that controversy were fanned by the false assumption that by serving as Speaker, I would be handing Dalton McGuinty a majority government. Some even went so far as to say that I would be crossing the floor. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I want you, my constituents to have the factsabout my intentions and the source of the controversy.

First, why did I put my name forward for Speaker ?

Following the election on October 6th, I gave a great deal of thought as to how I could make the most meaningful contribution in the legislature. Given the context of a minority government, I know that the role of Speaker will be critical to ensuring that the legislature operates effectively and that the intent of the electorate as expressed in the election results could be carried out. I believe that the voters of this province want their MPPs to focus on making their government work and not spend their time playing political brinksmanship. An effective Speaker can play an important role in making that happen.

I also believe that the legislature should be a place where business is conducted with civility and respect.

During my more than 20 years in business, I have observed heated exchanges and disagreements over board room tables, but I have never experienced the lack of civility that is too often demonstrated in the legislature during debates or in Question Period. I have often been embarrassed knowing that visitors, especially school children watching from the galleries, are seeing their elected representatives conducting themselves with such disrespect. I have often felt frustration knowing that the rules of the legislature give the Speaker the authority to maintain respectful decorum, and that it would be a great legacy for a Speaker to restore a sense of civility to how business is conducted in the legislature.

An experienced Speaker can have a major influence, not only on how the business of the legislature gets done, but can also ensure that the legislature is focused on the priorities of public policy. Throughout my 16 years in the legislature, I have served as a Cabinet Minister, Chief Government Whip, Deputy House Leader and have served on most Committees of the legislature including the Board of Internal Economy and Management Board of Cabinet. I felt that this experience would be invaluable to carrying out the responsibilities of the Speaker and that I would serve the legislature and the province well in that capacity. I advised the Leader of our Party, Tim Hudak that I would be putting my name forward for Speaker knowing that it would not be his preference, but believing that I should at least let my colleagues know that I would be willing to serve.

Why the controversy ?

It wasn’t long before my expressed interest in the role of Speaker was being characterized as a defiance of our Party Leader and some even went so far as to equate it to a crossing of the floor. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who know me, and are familiar with my more than 35 years of front-line service in our Party know that this would contradict the very core of my personal and political beliefs. To want to serve in a role that I believe I am well-qualified for after 16 years in the legislature should not be interpreted as being disloyal, and the suggestion that I would be changing my political allegiance was more offensive to me than it could possibly have been to anyone observing. I was counting on my colleagues and supporters to understand that I would never compromise the principles I have been advocating and have guided me over the years. Unfortunately, the intrigue that this spin put on the issue over-took the story line and it became virtually impossible to be heard through the noise and the clutter of the media and the political blogs that were relentlessly driving this message.

Here are the facts regarding the effect that my vote would have had on the workings of the legislature:

As Speaker, I would have the responsibility of casting the deciding vote in the event of a tie between the government and the opposition parties. It is common knowledge that if the Speaker follows convention, he will cast that vote in favour of the government. However, that is convention but it is not the rule. In fact, the rule is that the Speaker’s vote is his decision to make. The Speaker is not bound to follow convention and has the authority and the right to cast his vote as the impartial arbiter of the legislature. I made it very clear, that should I be elected Speaker I would be casting my votes on the same basis as I have done over the past 16 years – on the basis of what I believe is the right thing to do. If that meant voting against the government, I would have done so. The suggestion that the government could behave as a majority is therefore baseless and I made my position on this clear in every media interview and in discussions with my colleagues. As was suggested during my interview on Focus Ontario, perhaps this is why there was less than enthusiastic support for my candidacy from the Liberal Caucus. I believe that the effect of my approach to the casting of the deciding vote would have been an assurance of fairness for both the government and opposition parties.

How would being Speaker have affected my ability to get things done for Newmarket-Aurora ?

Locally, the rumour mills were also working over-time. Here are the top three: If I were named Speaker, I would (a) have to resign my seat, (b) could no longer advocate for my constituents, and (c) it would be the equivalent of crossing the floor. All are patently false. Nothing changes about the status of a Speaker’s position as MPP. As for his Party affiliation, even though the Speaker assumes an impartial role in the legislature and does not participate in partisan activities, he remains a member of his political Party. As for a Speaker’s role as an advocate for his constituents, he has the same responsibilities as every other MPP to represent his constituents. In fact, by virtue of his position as Speaker, he is often able to be even more effective in getting things done.

So why have I decided not to let my name stand for Speaker ?

Throughout the past 16 years as an MPP, I have always put my constituents first. Whether I had Cabinet or Critic responsibilities in government or in the Official Opposition, I always ensured that nothing stood in the way of my ability to meet the needs of the people who elected me. That will always be my priority.

I made the decision not to pursue the role of Speaker for two reasons.

First, as I said from the very beginning and was quoted in numerous interviews, I was only prepared to be Speaker based on my belief that the Speaker has the authority, the right and the responsibility not simply to follow convention, but to base decisions on what he believes is the right thing to do in the interest of the legislature and the province. While I believe that a more proactive Speaker, who would be willing to set precedent rather than simply following it, would play an important role in revitalizing the institution of parliament and making it more relevant to today’s reality, it became apparent that not enough of my colleagues share that view. As I assessed the potential votes, it became clear that given the opposition parties’ stated preference that the Speaker should be from the Liberal Party and the fact that there are four Liberal Members in the race, my chances at best are limited.

Second, I do not want the controversy that has developed over this to interfere with my ability to carry out my priority responsibilities, which are to serve my constituents and to be an effective voice for you in the legislature. I am looking forward to focusing on the mandate you have given me as your MPP.

As always, I welcome your comments and advice and invite you to contact me either through my website at www.frankklees.com or by calling me at 905 750 0019.