Ontario MPP Amanda Simard has joined the Liberal Party, more than a year after she quit the Progressive Conservative caucus over cuts to French-language services.
Ms. Simard had been sitting as an independent since November, 2018, when she left the PC caucus after publicly criticizing Premier Doug Ford’s government.
Her decision to join the Liberals means the former governing party now has six members, short of the 12 it needs for official party status in the legislature.
Ms. Simard, who represents the largely French-speaking eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, said the PC Party no longer reflects her values.
She said she did not consider returning to the PC caucus, even as Mr. Ford has taken on a softer tone in the face of public outcry.
“Simply changing a tone is not changing their reckless cuts and agenda and the intention. And the trust is broken,” she told reporters at Queen’s Park.
Ms. Simard, who was first nominated to run for the Progressive Conservatives under former leader Patrick Brown, said she didn’t know Mr. Ford when he took over the helm of the party in March, 2018.
“When I ran as the PC candidate, we gave Mr. Ford the benefit of the doubt,” Ms. Simard said. “We didn’t really know him. It’s a completely different party [under Mr. Ford].”
Calling the Liberals “the party of the future,” Ms. Simard said she plans to play a role in the party’s March leadership race but has not yet backed a candidate.
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser called Ms. Simard “a strong defender of francophone rights.”
“She stood up when it would have been easy not to. And any day of the week, that’s the kind of member that Ontario Liberals want,” he said.
He added that the Liberals hope to win two Ottawa-area by-elections this year following the departure of two Liberal MPPs.
Ms. Simard’s defection means she is now eligible to vote in the Liberal Party’s leadership race, one of about 2,000 delegates who will choose from among six candidates who will take the helm of the party.
Leadership candidates Steven Del Duca and Michael Coteau welcomed Ms. Simard to the party.
“Amanda’s decision cannot have been an easy one, but Doug Ford’s record on francophone services – and his lack of respect for the community – surely played a role,” Mr. Del Duca said in a statement.
Mr. Coteau said he’s happy to have Ms. Simard in the party in advance of the leadership race and by-elections.
“Hopefully we’ll get to eight in the legislature and start that rebuild within this building,” he said.
Ms. Simard left the Tory caucus in the wake of the government’s decision to cut the office of the French-language watchdog and scrap a planned French-language university, which has since been reinstated.
From 1999 until the 2018 election, her provincial riding had voted Liberal.
Speaking to reporters on Friday in Parry Sound, Mr. Ford said he wished Ms. Simard the best.
“We treated her absolutely phenomenal[ly], by the way,” Mr. Ford said. “We look forward to winning that riding in the next election.”