Ontario MPP Amanda Simard has quit the Progressive Conservative caucus to sit as an independent after she publicly criticized Premier Doug Ford’s government for changes to French-language services in the province.
In a letter sent to Speaker Ted Arnott early Thursday, Ms. Simard – who was the only Franco-Ontarian member of Mr. Ford’s team – said her decision to leave is effective immediately.
“I am no longer a member of the Progressive Conservative Caucus,” Ms. Simard wrote. “I will continue to take my place in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario as an Independent.”
Ms. Simard did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The announcement came as Ms. Simard’s caucus colleagues met at Queen’s Park to discuss her future. A senior government source told the Globe that a large number of caucus members were requesting that she be kicked out of caucus, following public criticisms of Mr. Ford and his government.
After Thursday’s caucus meeting, Mr. Ford told iPolitics that he didn’t know Ms. Simard was going to leave caucus. “We’re more united than we’ve ever been,” he said.
For days, Ms. Simard has been speaking out against the government’s decision in its fall fiscal update to cancel plans for a francophone university and cut the office of the French-language watchdog.
“I’m asking the Premier and the government to reverse their decisions. And so I’m just doing what I was elected to do,” Ms. Simard told reporters at Queen’s Park this week.
On Wednesday, Mr. Ford told reporters he spoke with Ms. Simard last week and told her she had his support. However, he said since then she had been avoiding calls from his office.
“My chief of staff tried to contact Amanda, my principal secretary tried to contact Amanda. Other people in my office tried to contact Amanda. Amanda never returned the calls,” he said.
“She chose not to be part of it.”
After significant outcry from the Franco-Ontarian community, the PC government retreated somewhat last week by announcing it would create a French-language services commissioner position under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s office. Mr. Ford also officially installed Attorney-General Caroline Mulroney as the Minister of Francophone Affairs, and pledged to hire a senior policy adviser for francophone affairs. But plans for a francophone university, which Mr. Ford had promised to keep during the election campaign, were not resurrected.
“Over the last couple of days we made a few changes. I listened,” Mr. Ford said. However, he said there is not enough money in the province for a francophone university.
Ms. Simard said the “partial backtracking” was not enough. On Wednesday, she voted against the government’s fall economic update in the legislature.
Ms. Simard, who represents the eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, served as a city councillor in the community of Russell before joining the Tory roster under then-leader Patrick Brown. She holds a law degree from the University of Ottawa and previously worked on Parliament Hill as a policy adviser.
With a report from The Canadian Press