MPP Amanda Simard leaves PC caucus after frustration with French-service cuts
Published Thursday, November 29, 2018 8:04AM EST Last Updated Thursday, November 29, 2018 8:40PM EST
Rookie MPP Amanda Simard says she is leaving the Ontario PC caucus to sit as an independent just days after publicly speaking out against her party’s cuts to French-language services.
Simard’s decision was announced in a letter sent to the speaker of the house on Thursday morning.
“I would like to advise you that effective immediately, I am no longer a member of the Progressive Conservative Caucus. I will continue to take my place in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as an Independent,” her letter read.
Sources in the Ford government tell CTV News Toronto that Simard left caucus before she was about be pushed out.
During a caucus meeting Thursday, sources said a number of PC MPPs said Simard should leave caucus, citing her vote against the government’s Fall Economic Statement during its second reading in the legislature.
As the Fall Economic Statement is a money bill that allocates spending, voting against it signifies a vote of non-confidence in the government, a hostile thing for an MPP on the government’s side to do.
Sources said Premier Ford was “ready to listen” to the concerns of MPPs about Simard but she left caucus herself before they could take any action.
Simard, who represents the largely Franco-Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott Russell, has been critical of the Ford government’s decision to scrap the independent office of the French-language services commissioner and a planned French-language university.
Following backlash, the province later backtracked on the decision to eliminate the commissioner’s office, offering to hire a commissioner within the office of the provincial ombudsman. The government also promised to create a Ministry of Francophone Affairs and employ a senior policy adviser on francophone issues.
"The government's proposals since this initial announcement amount to one step forward but three steps back. If we make this kind of concession, there will be nothing left in a few years," Simard said in French in the legislature earlier this week.
"Franco-Ontarians are not asking for additional rights or services, we're asking that the existing protections and entities remain in place," she continued, speaking in English.
The premier contends that the cuts were necessary to reduce the deficit but Ford did not specify how much money would be saved. On Wednesday, Simard said the decision would not "contribute in any meaningful way" to reducing the deficit.
When iPolitics reporter Marieke Walsh asked Ford if Simard gave him advance notice of her departure, the premier replied, “Nope.”
“I just look forward to a strong team and a great team that we have and we are more united than we’ve ever been. Ever,” Ford said Thursday.
“We stick together. We are united. Solid. Solid. United."
Later Thursday morning, Ford’s office issued a statement calling Simard’s departure “unfortunate.”
“We wish Amanda Simard well as she sits as an independent. It’s unfortunate that she chose not to work within government in service to her constituents," the statement read.
"We are disappointed she chose to vote against the Fall Economic Statement which will help restore trust and accountability to Ontario’s finances. She voted against a bill that had the largest tax cut for low income workers in a generation, increased transparency on the job killing federal carbon tax, and helped make Ontario open for business."
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser applauded Simard for her “courage.”
“Ms. Simard did something very brave this morning. What she said is, ‘What my party is doing to my community, the Franco-Ontarians… is wrong. And it is so wrong that I’m going leave my family, my party, which is like my family,’” Fraser said.
“It takes a lot of courage. I know that all of us on the opposition side, the Greens, the Liberals, and the NDP welcome her on that side.”
The NDP, meanwhile, continued to grill the premier on the French-language cuts.
“They are a founding people of this country,” MPP John Vantof said in the house. “This is more than just a broken promise.”
Ford stood by his party’s decision, contending that his government is "empowering the role of French language service commissioner under the ombudsman."
“We have a fantastic new minister of Francophone affairs, a wonderful person, Caroline Mulroney. Couldn’t ask for a better representative," he added.
-- With files from The Canadian Press