Amanda Simard joins Liberals a year after quitting Doug Ford’s Tories over French-language cuts

Amanda Simard joins Liberals a year after quitting Doug Ford’s Tories over French-language cuts

MPP Amanda Simard, who quit the Progressive Conservatives in protest of Premier Doug Ford’s cuts to French-language services, is bolting to the Liberals.

The delayed defection comes after Simard (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) had been sitting as an Independent since leaving the government caucus in November 2018.

“This was not an easy decision to make and to be taken lightly,” she told reporters Thursday at Queen’s Park.

“This is the party of the future.”

Simard made headlines across Canada after renouncing the Tories over the government’s controversial decision to eliminate the independent French-language watchdog position and scale back plans for a French university.

The first-term MPP has maintained there’s a “disconnect” between the PC government and Ontario’s 622,000-member Franco-Ontarian community.

Quebec Premier François Legault even raised his concerns about minority language rights in Ontario during his first meeting with Ford.

Her announcement comes as a new Pollara Strategic Insights poll in the Star shows the Liberals on top for the first time in years.

According to Pollara, the Liberals are at 33 per cent, the Tories at 29 per cent, the New Democrats at 27 per cent, and the Greens at nine per cent.

That’s despite the fact Liberals will not elect a new leader until a March 7 delegated convention in Mississauga.

MPPs Michael Coteau and Mitzie Hunter, former minister Steven Del Duca, past candidates Kate Graham and Alvin Tedjo, and lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth are in the leadership race.

Interim Liberal leader John Fraser, who welcomed Simard into “our family” said the party that governed Ontario for almost 15 years before being trounced by Ford’s Conservatives in the June 2018 election is on the comeback trail.

“Let’s remember, we’re the government that launched full-day kindergarten, we’re the government that eliminated coal, we’re the government that led the largest expansion in Ontario health care,” said Fraser.

“People know who we are. They know we’re builders. They sent us a message in the last election and it’s one that we heard,” he said.

“We’re working really hard to re-earn their trust. We lost it.”

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Pollara surveyed 2,198 Ontarians on an online panel between Jan. 6 and Jan. 11. While online samples aren’t randomly selected and cannot be assigned a margin of error, a probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of within 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

With Simard aboard, the Liberals now have six seats in the 124-member legislature while the governing Tories have 73, including Speaker Ted Arnott, who does not caucus with the government.

The New Democrats have have 40, the Greens one, and there are two Independent MPPs. Two vacancies previously held by the Liberals — in Ottawa-Vanier and Orleans — will be filled in byelections expected next month.

Robert Benzie

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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