TORONTO – Ontario could have its first female Speaker as politicians gather at the legislature Monday to choose the person who will have to referee what is likely to be a rowdy new session.
But with a slate of Liberals running for the job in a new minority situation, there are questions about whether the Speaker will be able to remain impartial, especially if he or she is called to break any crucial tied votes.
The opposition parties have met with all four Speaker candidates: Donna Cansfield, who is considered the front-runner, as well as Dave Levac, Kevin Flynn and David Zimmer.
And while no one is saying who they’ll vote for, Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak said one of the key issues for his members was to find someone who will look beyond party lines when called upon to make decisions.
“My caucus members … are not shrinking violets and they threw some pretty though hardballs to the Speaker candidates when they came into our caucus a couple of weeks ago,” Hudak said.
“They asked questions like that: ‘How do we know, since you’ve had the Liberal party uniform for so long, you’ll don the Speaker’s robes appropriately.’”
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All four candidates will likely receive PC votes, he added, noting he hasn’t instructed his caucus to vote any particular way. Tory Christine Elliott is already set to second Cansfield’s nomination, which Cansfield says will come from Liberal Monte Kwinter.
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath had at one point suggested her party would vote as a bloc to select a Speaker, but she now says she’s leaving that decision up to each member.
“At our last caucus meeting we decided we had a sense as to where most of our MPPs were going, but I did tell them, it is a free vote,” said Horwath.
“A number of us believe that there are certain folks who would make a good Speaker, one that we would think particularly would do well for us,” she added, declining to name names.
The Speaker’s job is prestigious, and it comes with a bump in salary to nearly $153,000 a year and an apartment at the Ontario legislature. It’s also one of the few roles that includes a portrait on the walls of the legislature along with one of the premier.
After last month’s election, which saw the Liberals reduced to one seat short of a majority, there had been speculation about whether the government would push for an opposition Speaker to level the playing field, because it would have taken away their one-vote advantage. The Speaker, by convention, tends to vote with the governing party.
But the Liberals said early on they wouldn’t discourage anyone from running, suggesting that a one-seat difference didn’t change the landscape as much as some believed.
Candidates will be nominated Monday before the secret vote to replace Steve Peters, who chose not to run in the last provincial election, and members can come forward right up until the process gets underway at 2 p.m.
Those interested have remained the same from the start – with the eyebrow-raising exception of Tory Frank Klees, who stunned political insiders and observers last month by announcing his intention to run, against Hudak’s wishes.
His decision sparked angry comments from fellow Tories, while the Liberals wasted no time calling the defection a sign that the PCs were in disarray.
Klees, the member for Newmarket-Aurora, abandoned his bid less than a week after beginning his campaign, and returned to Hudak’s shadow cabinet as critic for transportation and infrastructure.
Every member of the legislature can vote for Speaker in a secret ballot, held one day before the legislature resumes Tuesday with a speech from the throne.
If there is more than one member nominated, the winner will be selected through several rounds of balloting, unless a candidate wins a clear majority in the first round.