Premier Doug Ford insists he has no regrets about how the Progressive Conservatives treated MPP Amanda Simard, who defected to the Liberals over his government’s treatment of Franco-Ontarians.
Speaking with reporters on Friday in Parry Sound, Ford was asked what he could have done differently to keep Simard from bolting to the Grits.
“I just wish her all the best,” the premier said in his first public statement since the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP’s announcement Thursday.
“We’re going to continue working hard in her riding representing her constituents, but I wish her all the best,” he said.
Pressed on whether he had any “regrets” about how Simard was dealt with, Ford bristled.
“We treated her absolutely phenomenal, by the way,” he said.
“You’re going to have to ask Amanda that. We’re going to continue working hard and we look forward to winning that riding in the next election.”
Conservatives strategists, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss private deliberations, confide that the party has little hope of winning the Eastern Ontario seat in the 2022 election.
The first-term MPP made headlines across Canada when she quit the Tory caucus in November 2018 after Ford scrapped the independent French-language services commissioner post, putting under the ombudsman’s office, and scaled back plans for a French university.
Simard was outraged that even though she was the parliamentary assistant to Caroline Mulroney, the minister responsible for francophone affairs, she was not informed of the cuts beforehand.
On Thursday, she said she was joining the Liberals after sitting as an Independent for 14 months because they are “the party of the future.”
“It’s not just about French-language services. It’s really about, generally, the direction and position on education, climate change,” said Simard, pointing to the Tories’ cancellation of the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade environmental alliance with Quebec and California.
“That’s not the party that I signed up for. That’s not the way to run a province.”
Since leaving the Tories, Simard has become a prominent face of the province’s 622,000-member Franco-Ontario community.
She has enlisted with a Liberal party that has surged in recent public-opinion polls even though a leader will not be selected until March 7.
While Simard has not expressed support for any of the six candidates in the contest, she said she wants to help “rebuild” a party that governed Ontario from 2003 until Ford’s Tories toppled them in 2018.
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MPPs Michael Coteau (Don Valley East) and Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood), former minister Steven Del Duca, past candidates Kate Graham and Alvin Tedjo, and lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth are in the leadership race.
All welcomed Simard into the Liberal fold.
Hunter said on Friday that if she triumphs in the leadership and wins the next election, she would improve access to French-language services and programs throughout the province.
“I have a long history of supporting Franco-Ontarians from my time at TVO/TFO,” she said, referring to Ontario’s public broadcasters. “I will be a leader who respects and restores the rights of all French-speaking people in Ontario.”