Note that this story contains 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!
Over the weekend, Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MPP Amanda Simard was asked where her “red line” would be when it came to disavowing her party in support of continued francophone services.
She answered it would be when her party prevented her from doing her work.
About 72 hours later, Simard was faced with that red line after the PCs prevented her from speaking on a motion to reverse the decision. She relied on getting time from the NDP, which introduced the motion, to voice her support.
This morning, Simard followed through and quit the PC caucus to sit as an independent in the legislature.
The Review has contacted Simard’s office with a list of questions but as of the time of this writing, we have not received a response. We will update accordingly if we get answers.
Discussions needed with province
The same day Simard spoke in the legislature to support the NDP motion, back home at the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, local mayors voiced their support for her position.
During its council—the last for many mayors around the table—the UCPR read a resolution from the Town of Hawkesbury which decried the provincial governments cuts to the Commissariat aux services en français de l’Ontario and the French-language university project.
“On ne laisse pas partir qu’est-ce qu’on a acquis,” said Hawkesbury’s outgoing mayor Jeanne Charlebois.
(“We won’t let go what we’ve won.”)
Specifically for Prescott-Russell, Charlebois added, “On a une richesse qu’on partage avec tout le monde. On accueille le monde ici avec les deux langues et on est quand même très fier de notre francophonie. C’est ça qui nous distingue.”
(“We have a richness that we share with everybody. We welcome people here in both languages et we’re very proud of our francophonie. That is what sets us apart.”)
She also commended her fellow mayors Robert Kirby of East Hawkesbury and Gary Barton of Champlain for their continued efforts to work in a bilingual environment.
Russell mayor Pierre Leroux voiced a word of caution, saying, “La réalité c’est que tout le monde a une rôle à jouer. Nous, il faut qu’on joue avec le gouvernement provincial pour le prochain quatres ans alors on ne veut pas prendre une position d’attaquer, de critiquer, mais on peut avoir des discussions.”
(“The reality is everyone has a role to play. We have to play with this provincial government for the next four years so we don’t want to take a position on attacking and criticizing but we can’t have discussions.”)
The discussion ended with council adding a request for a delegation with Ontario’s Francophone Affairs at January’s Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference.
Reaction to Simard’s departure
The Review spoke with Leroux and Charlebois and asked if they thought the decision would make it harder for Simard to voice her concerns now that she’s an independent.
Charlebois said she was disappointed by the PCs in not letting Simard speak on the motion and in Minister Caroline Mulroney for not being more supportive of the Franco-Ontarian community.
“Je pense que ça va donner moins de pouvoir à sa voix à Queen’s Park, mais ça donne plus de pouvoir à la population,” said Leroux, referring to the Francophone file specifically.
(“I think this will weaken her voice at Queen’s Park but it’ll strengthen the people’s voice overall.”)
However, he added that having an independent MPP may make it more difficult for other local issues to move forward in the future. He said he wouldn’t put it past the current government to hold a grudge if the UCPR comes out strongly against the cuts.
Both Charlebois and Leroux said Simard will likely need support from the opposing parties to add weight to her voice in the legislature; whether that means officially crossing over to another party remains to be seen.
“Elle n’avait pas ce feu là au niveau municipal,” said Leroux, who worked with Simard while she was a councillor in Russell. “Je pense que c’est vraiment quelque chose qui lui a touché au coeur. Elle a vraiment démontré une maturité.”
(“She didn’t have that fire at the municipal level… I think this is really something that she holds close to her heart. She really showed a maturity.”)
Glengarry-Prescott-Russell MP Francis Drouin has also weighed in on today’s events. He issues a statement on Thursday, as follows:
«Depuis deux semaines, nous vivons une crise en Ontario qui concerne notre communauté franco-ontarienne. Cette crise revient uniquement aux décisions du gouvernement Ford. Il est évident que M. Ford et le gouvernement conservateur ne comprennent pas l’histoire et la réalité des Franco-ontariens. M. Ford ne comprend pas ses obligations constitutionnelles envers notre communauté.
À plusieurs reprises la députée provinciale de Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, Mme Amanda Simard a tenté de convaincre le gouvernement Ford de renverser ses décisions. Le geste que Mme Simard a posé ce matin, va non seulement résonner dans la communauté franco-ontarienne, mais aussi dans les communautés francophones et acadiennes partout à travers le pays, et ce, pendant des décennies à venir. J’appuie et je suis fier de Mme Simard.»
(“For the past two weeks, our Franco-Ontarian community has been in a crisis. This crisis comes down to the decisions of the Ford government. It is clear that Mr. Ford and the Conservative government do not understand the history and the reality of Franco-Ontarians. Mr. Ford does not understand his constitutional obligations to our community.
On several occasions Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, MPP Amanda Simard tried to convince the Ford government to overturn these decisions. The gesture that Ms. Simard made this morning will not only resonate in the Franco-Ontarian community, but also in Francophone and Acadian communities throughout the country for decades to come. I support and I am proud of Ms. Simard. “)