Doug Ford performs about-face on sex ed

Under siege in his own party and doing badly in the polls, the new curriculum paints Ford as a moderate eager to get on with more pressing challenges facing his government



At long last it has been delivered, but the new Ontario sexual education curriculum is very similar to the one issued by the previous Liberal government – the one that Doug Ford and his party insisted was “perverse” and would “damage children.”

The new elementary curriculum mandates the teaching of “sexual orientation” at Grade 5, a grade earlier than the Liberal program, and gender identity at Grade 8, while the Liberals had it at Grade 6.

The gender identity aspects are not as progressive as in the original curriculum.

References to masturbation – a subject that was always optional for a teacher – remain, and anal sex is still to be discussed in Grade 7. Parents are allowed to opt their kids out of these classes, but – contrary to what some protestors claimed – that was always available.

Some boards, however, refused to adopt the policy of parents removing their children, and while the new guidelines are stronger, it’s by no means certain that those boards will now behave any differently.

The program put forward by Kathleen Wynne was preferable, but the new document is certainly an improvement on the 1998 curriculum the Ford government initially wanted to go back to. And while there are some valid criticisms to be made, the people who are particularly angry are the social conservatives whose leader, Tanya Granic Allen, swung her votes behind Ford to guarantee his victory over Christine Elliott for the party leadership.

Granic Allen tweeted that “The radical Wynne sex-ed is still there – ALL OF IT. And gender identity is mentioned 40 times. Ford LIED to the parents.” She was responding to a tweet by Charles McVety declaring that “the radical sex ed is gone.” The Canada Christian College president and key Ford supporter doesn’t seem to have read the document or is so committed to his friend that he won’t oppose him.

Granic Allen and her followers feel betrayed, but they should have seen it coming.

Earlier this year the new Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce marched in York Pride  –Ford marched too – tweeting that he was “sharing a message of inclusion & love for ALL.” 

That is coded language – and anathema – to the Christian right who, in spite of their denials, are soaked in homophobia.

It also presents an enormous problem to their young hero Sam Oosterhoff, who is parliamentary assistant to the education minister and who has pledged to make abortion “unthinkable.” Oosterhoff was a vehement critic of the Liberals’ sex-ed plan and needs to now play his cards very carefully or face the personal and political animosity of his community and electoral base.

More importantly, it was Ford who gave his word that he would scrap Wynne’s curriculum and introduce something completely new and much more traditional. Ford is in many ways more 1950s suburban than socially conservative. While he’s uncomfortable with even discussing sex ed and feels out of place with the LGBTQ community, he has no religious connection to the so-Con movement.

He is also a man under siege in a party renowned for its internal nastiness. The Tories are more than prepared to reject leaders if they can’t guarantee an election win. It’s worth remembering that Patrick Brown also got into trouble because he initially won the support of the social conservatives, but would then have nothing to do with them. They never forgave him.

Ford is doing extremely badly in the polls, and talk within the Ontario party is that if the free-fall doesn’t stop by the end of the year, revolt will be inevitable. Put simply, many are convinced that it’s not the Progressive Conservative brand that is in trouble, but that of Ford Nation. Combine this with humiliated and relegated ministers, scandals about high-handed advisers and nepotism, and the storm nears perfection.

To Ford’s left are social liberals such as Caroline Mulroney and to a lesser extent Christine Elliott, both of whom want the leadership. Then there are the Tory pragmatists such as Rod Phillips, a highly capable politician who sees his role as “liberating” the economy – and considers social conservatism an irrelevant and even a dangerous distraction for the party.

There is no serious or organized right within the caucus, only those who will follow power and victory. Lisa MacLeod, once thought an asset to Ford, is now dismissed by insiders as an embarrassment – best ignored and not to be trusted.

The new sex-ed curriculum is not, in all honesty, bad politics, and it also seems that Doug Ford had very little to do with it.

But it presents the government as being moderate on the issue, wanting to get on with more pressing challenges. Someone at some point determined that social conservatives were a loss worth risking, but that could backfire in ridings outside of urban centres and in areas with significant Muslim communities. The PCs must be thinking: they might be angry with us, but they’ll know that the other parties are even worse on the subject.

All of those protests at Queen’s Park and outside of schools, all of that hateful anti-gay rhetoric, all of those misspelled signs about masturbation. All for nothing. I wonder if Doug Ford will regret doing something that is, believe it or not, the right thing.

@nowtoronto

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