TORONTO — An Ontario politician who quit the Progressive Conservatives to protest cuts to francophone services is joining the provincial Liberals, saying her old party changed under the leadership of Premier Doug Ford.
Amanda Simard had spent more than year sitting with no party affiliation. She and interim Liberal leader John Fraser made the announcement Thursday.
Simard made headlines when she left the Tory caucus in 2018 following the government's decision to scrap the independent office of the French-language services commissioner and a planned francophone university. Since then, she has been critical of the Ford government.
After considering the move for months, Simard said she finally decided to join the Liberals over the holidays.
"This is the party that truly respects and understands the people of my riding, my community, and our province," she said. "This is the party of the future."
Simard was elected in 2018 at the age of 29 to represent the largely French-speaking eastern Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell.
She was first nominated to run for the Progressive Conservatives under former leader Patrick Brown. After he resigned from the party's top job and Ford rose to the leadership, Simard said many things changed. She said she became increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the Tory party and the government.
"When I ran as the PC candidate, we gave Mr. Ford the benefit of the doubt," Simard said. "We didn't really know him. It's a completely different party. It's truly not what (people) signed up for."
Fraser praised Simard as a principled and energetic legislator who made a hard choice to stand up to her own party and government.
"She stood up when it would have been easy not to," Fraser said. "That's the kind of member that Ontario Liberals want and we're proud to have her."
With Simard joining their ranks, the Liberals will have six seats in the legislature — still well short of the 12 needed to for official party status.
The Liberals suffered their worst-ever election defeat in 2018, and are in the midst of a leadership contest to replace former premier Kathleen Wynne.
Liberal leadership candidate Michael Coteau said he welcomes Simard and has spoken to her several times about her decision to leave the government.
"It has been very challenging," Coteau said. "She left her old family and sat as an Independent in the legislature. She was elected as a Progressive Conservative and didn't align with the values of that party, and now she's found a new home."
A spokeswoman for Ford said they wished Simard "the best."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2020.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press