Amanda Simard is putting the interests of French-speaking Ontarians above her own political clout, her former colleague and one-time rival said Thursday, hours after the rookie legislator severed ties with the province’s governing Tories.
Simard, 29, left the Progressive Conservatives on Thursday after publicly denouncing Ontario’s decision to eliminate the independent office of the French-language services commissioner and a planned French-language university.
Though she’s only represented her largely francophone riding at Queen’s Park for a few months, she isn’t entirely new to politics, having sat as a municipal councillor in her hometown of Russell, Ont., for four years before she ran provincially.
Pierre Leroux, the mayor of Russell and one of Simard’s former colleagues, said she appears to have now zeroed in on a matter of importance to her constituents – one she also feels strongly about.
“She’s shown a level of maturity now that I didn’t see at the municipal level,” Leroux said. “She was fairly quiet.”
Simard didn’t have the opportunity to speak out at such a magnitude while sitting on council, Leroux said in a phone interview after the provincial politician sent a letter to the Speaker of the legislature announcing that she’d sit as an independent.
There wasn’t an issue that captured her heart like the government’s recent francophone measures clearly have, he said.
Leroux, who ran against Simard as a Liberal in the spring provincial election, said she was a person who “played things close to the chest.” He said her departure from Tory caucus was a bold move he wouldn’t have expected from her.
“I have to give it to her, she’s sticking to her convictions,” he said. “I’m impressed. I really am. If you’d have asked me six months ago, that probably would not have been the word I used to relate to her, but no, I am impressed.”
Simard attended law school at the University of Ottawa, graduating with a doctor of laws in 2013. She served as an editor on the Ottawa Law Review and worked as a political staffer on Parliament Hill.
In her mid-twenties, she won a seat on the municipal council of her hometown.
The municipality of Russell is divided into two villages – Embrun and Russell. Embrun, the village from which Simard hails, is historically francophone, whereas the village of Russell is historically English-speaking.
In 2016, Simard was hand-picked to provincially run for the Tories by then-leader Patrick Brown, who stepped down in January in the face of sexual misconduct allegations he has denied.
A backbencher, Simard made headlines with a Facebook post last week criticizing the government’s decision on the French commissioner and university, saying she was “definitely upset.”
Before her departure from Tory caucus this week, she said she was pushing the government to reverse course on the moves. She later voted against government legislation that dealt with the measures.
“Franco-Ontarians are not asking for additional rights or services, we’re asking that the existing protections and entities remain in place,” she said.
Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod said Thursday that Simard will likely have a difficult four years ahead of her sitting as an independent at Queen’s Park.
Leroux echoed that sentiment but said Simard’s actions have likely raised the profile of francophone issues in the province.
“Even though her voice will maybe not carry as much weight at Queen’s Park, she has lit a match in the Franco-Ontario community,” he said. “Their voice is just going to be louder because of this.”