You may find this story is a different from our usual writings. We have left people’s comments in the original language in which they were voiced, especially because this is about French-language rights. You will find English translations immediately following in parentheses. In these times, we want to give space—literally and figuratively—to the francophone community. Let us know what you think!
St-Isidore’s community centre accommodates up to 300 people in its upper hall. It was at maximum capacity and then some on Sunday afternoon as Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Amanda Simard hosted a meeting billed as an economic update.
Few numbers were discussed as the conversation quickly turned to more emotional matters: the cutting of the Commissariat aux services en français and funding for a French-language university.
These announcements came last Thursday; the following day, the Ford government partially walked back the positions by keeping the French Language Services Commissioner position (within the Ombudsman office and not independently like before) and no plans to restore funding to the university project.
“Personnellement, je crois que ce n’est qu’un seul pas en avant pour trois pas de recul,” said Simard. “Si nous continuons à faire de telle concessions il ne restera plus grand choses dans quelques années.”
(“Personally, I believe this is only one step forward for three steps back… If we continue to allow these kinds of concessions there won’t be much left in a few years.”)
The crowd stood and applauded her comments.
Once attendees sat down again, some of Simard’s constituents questioned their MPP’s commitment to her dissenting words.
Pressed on why she voted for the plan put forth by her government in the first reading, Simard said she supports the plan overall. She explained it has to go through two more readings and analysis from committees before being officially adopted. However, she didn’t indicate whether she would vote against it if the plan stays the same.
Francis Thériault, who grew up French in New-Brunswick, pointed to the fact Ford’s PC party website still doesn’t have a French equivalent. He denounced Ford’s treatment of the media and deplored the fact PC candidates weren’t part of the debates during the elections.
“Les candidats conservateurs ne viennent pas écouter la population et prétendent ensuite les représenter,” he said. “Pourquoi est-ce que vous êtes notre représentante et non simplement la représentante du parti conservateur au sein de Glengarry-Prescott-Russell?”
(“Conservative candidates didn’t listen to the population and then claimed to represent us… Why are you our representative and not simply the Conservative party’s representative in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell?”)
Simard said she worked “internally” to have the platform and website in French and admitted those requests fell on deaf ears.
“Je me disais que je ne veux pas commencer un grosse crise,” she said. “C’est choisir le temps de lutter. C’est une accumulation de toute ces choses là que je me suis dit, ‘Non, cette fois-ci je ne reste pas silencieuse’.”
(“I told myself that I didn’t want to start a crisis… It’s choosing the time to fight. It’s an accumulation of all these things and I said, ‘No, this time, I won’t stay quiet.”)
Another man asked Simard what constituted a red line for her in this matter.
She said that would be when it would prevent her from doing her work but wouldn’t go into detail.
But the savings!?
One could argue that’s already happened.
Since taking office, Simard has been Caroline Mulroney’s number two as the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. One would think she’d be a key person to know about upcoming cuts.
However, during the meeting she said she was also blindsided by the government’s slashing of services. She explained that she’d heard rumours but dismissed them since she hadn’t been consulted.
It’s unclear how Simard expects to be able to do her job if her own government won’t consult with her on files under her purview.
Simard said she questioned her government’s economic justification for the cuts, reiterating a statement she made on Tout le monde en parle, a current affairs program on Radio-Canada.
During the show, her fellow panelist Dyane Adam, president of the French university planning board, explained the $83.5 million funding over seven years for the project (half of which is paid for by the federal government) amounts to less than one-tenth of one per cent of the province’s budget per year.
Even if the savings were enormous—which they clearly are not—Ronald Caza, the lawyer famous for defending Montfort hospital, was also on the panel and he said no economic justification can supplant basic charter language rights.
To be fair, many in the crowd thanked and praised Simard for breaking from her party line, including former Liberal MPP Jean-Marc Lalonde.
Jacques Héroux, the president of the Prescott-Russell chapter of the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario, asked Simard what else she will do to maintain pressure on the rest of her government.
Her answer was vague; she mentioned working with other partners such as l’Assemblé de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO) to see where she could be most effective.
The last question of the meeting came from 19-year-old Trevor Stewart, president of the Front de préservation de l’identité franco-ontarienne.
“Lorsque le gouvernement Ford a éliminé le Ministère aux Affaires Francophone, vous avez dit rien; lorsque M. Ford a géré sa campagne strictement en anglais, vous avez dit rien… Comment pouvez-vous continuellement vous affilié à un parti qui a été historiquement si hostile à notre communauté.”
(“When the Ford government eliminated the Ministry of Francophone Affairs, you said nothing; when Mr. Ford ran his campaign strictly in English, you said nothing… How can you continuously affiliate yourself to a party that has been historically hostile to our community?”)
Simard evaded the question, saying she was told the ministry was being “reorganized” and reiterated she worked internally for the website and platform to be in French. She claimed had she denounced these things in public then her latest dissent wouldn’t have had the same impact. She added that she hoped things change in the future and that she still has hope to reverse the decision.
“Ce qui est le plus alarmant, on essaie même pas d’avoir des choses de plus mais de maintenir qu’est-ce qu’on a,” she said.
(“The most alarming thing is we’re not even trying to get more, but just maintaining what we have.”)
Carol Jolin, AFO’s president, jumped in to say he doesn’t want Simard to cross the floor or leave the party. He said organizations like AFO need allies like Simard in the ruling party.