Pro-family groups demand sex-ed program be repealed

Premier Doug Ford

New Ontario Premier Doug Ford has reiterated his promise to repeal the sex-ed curriculum.

On June 7, the Ontario Progressive Conservative party won more than 40 per cent of the vote and a majority at Queen’s Park, turfing the Liberal government after 15 years in power. Ford rode a wave of anti-Liberal sentiment following years of scandal, fiscal mismanagement, and radical politics. While Ford focused on finding efficiencies in Ontario’s spending to eventually balance the budget and reversing course on the cap-and-trade scheme Kathleen Wynne signed Ontario up for, pro-life and pro-family leaders say that his common-sense social conservatism also helped differentiate him from the NDP in what was widely seen as a change election.

Before the writ was drawn in early May, the PCs held a double-digit lead over the Liberals, but the governing party soon fell behind the NDP. After the leaders’ debate and a week of campaigning, the NDP were neck-and-neck with the PCs. One public poll showed the NDP surging ahead, with a ten-point lead over the Tories, and Andrea Horwath’s party on the verge of a super-majority. Internal private polls also showed the Tories behind. This may have reflected a desire for change more than a desire to embrace the far-left NDP.

Most pre-campaign polls found that about two-thirds of respondents said it was time for a change. By mid-campaign, as voters began to pay more attention to politics, that number rose to nearly 80 per cent. The PCs were never going to capture that entire cohort of voters interested in turfing the Liberals, and the NDP took advantage of the desire for change. It picked up most erstwhile progressive Liberals, while the Tories won over true swing voters who typically shift back-and-forth between PCs and Liberals.

When the votes were counted, 2,324,742 Ontarians voted for the PCs (40.5 per cent) and 1,925,512 Ontarians cast ballots for the NDP (33.6 per cent). The PCs won a majority of seats, with 76, while the NDP won 40.

The Liberals received 1,124,381 votes (19.6 per cent), good for seven seats, one short of the eight necessary for official party status in the legislature. The Green Party had more than a quarter million votes and elected their first MPP, leader Mike Schreiner in Guelph.

Ascertaining why voters cast their ballots the way they do is difficult, if not impossible, despite media narratives about the “ballot question” and whatnot. After a decade-and-a-half, voters certainly wanted change. The Liberals looked stale and out of ideas. Doug Ford’s personality attracted many voters, especially so-called Ford Nation in Toronto and its ethnically diverse neighbouring cities; it also put off some voters who were concerned he would import the drama of his brother’s time as mayor of Toronto from 2010-2014. Internal party polling found support among some swathes of voters for the “care agenda” promoted by the NDP and Liberals: daycare, pharmacare, and eldercare. But PC voters were concerned about deficits, hydro prices, and the Wynne government’s cap-and-trade scheme.

Pro-life and pro-family groups say that some voters — an estimated half-million people in total — were attracted to Ford’s promise to rescind the sex-ed curriculum. Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim, many CLC supporters supported Ford with their first or second choice in the PC leadership race in March, during which Ford promised to repeal sex-ed before the new school year in September and conduct proper consultations with parents. Ford also questioned whether adolescents should have abortions without their parents being notified and he supported free speech rights.

CLC said in a press release: “We are delighted that Kathleen Wynne’s ideological war against parental rights and family values is finally over, and we’re confident these new MPPs will help Premier Ford steer the province in a more family-friendly direction.”

Gunnarson said many CLC supporters were concerned when Ford dumped pro-life and pro-family star candidate Tanya Granic Allen after videos surfaced of her questioning same-sex “marriage.” She had finished a strong fourth and her supporters helped put Ford on top of the leadership count in March,  Gunnarson also said CLC is concerned that Ford did not mention sex-ed during the campaign, although he reiterated his “repeal-and-review” policy on both the day before the campaign started and the day after the PCs won their majority. Gunnarson said, “Hundreds of thousands voted PC because of Ford’s overtures to socially conservative minded voters. Now we wait for Premier Ford to prove that he is a man of his word.”

Queenie Yu, leader of the Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda Party, told a CityTV panel election night that “the message [was] sent to [Kathleen Wynne] tonight, that people hate her anti-family policies and that any politician that supports similar policies will suffer a similar fate.”

Granic Allen, who returned to her job as executive director of Parents as First Educators (PAFE) after Ford dumped her as PC candidate in Mississauga Centre, urged PAFE supporters to back either anti-sex-ed Tory candidates or Stop the New Sex Ed Agenda candidates who were running against socially liberal PC candidates.

After the PC victory on June 7, Granic Allen emailed a message to supporters: “Parents across Ontario have reason to celebrate today: Kathleen Wynne’s war against the family, the children, and people of faith in Ontario has come to a screeching halt.” She vowed to hold the new PC government to account on Ford’s sex-ed promise. “With the Doug Ford-led PC majority,” she wrote, “it is my hope that our new Premier will keep his word to repeal and replace the Wynne sex-ed curriculum.”

CLC launched a petition to urge Ford to keep his promise to repeal the curriculum immediately and then hold consultations: “Please act immediately to instruct schools to stop teaching Kathleen Wynne’s radical sex program as of September 2018, and to revert to the previous curriculum until such time as a new one is developed based on a genuine consultation with parents.” When The Interim went to press, more than 15,500 people signed the petition.

Pro-life and pro-family candidates did relatively well in the general election. CLC green-lit 36 candidates, including 12 in the Progressive Conservative party, along with mostly minor party and independent candidates. Of course, those running under the Alliance, Trillium, or Libertarian parties did not win, but nine of the 12 Tories did. As one wag observed, there are now more pro-life MPPs than Liberal MPPs at Queen’s Park.

CLC gives a green light to candidates who are pro-life and pro-family and a yellow light to candidates who show some semblance of support for the pro-life and pro-family agenda and are generally considered educable; there were 35 yellow-lit candidates, and 12 of them won.

Gunnarson said that with 24 pro-life or sympathetic caucus members, he is confident that life and family issues could be addressed. Gunnarson said that “when there are only one or two pro-life MPPs with few allies, it is difficult to stand up and do the right thing, but with two dozen, there might be safety in numbers.” He said he hopes “the pro-life and pro-family MPPs support each other in doing the right thing,” to push back against the euthanasia, abortion, anti-parent, and anti-family status quo in provincial politics.

Gunnarson was critical of the Ford cabinet announced on June 29. He noted that there were no pro-life MPPs named to cabinet. Furthermore, CLC was concerned that notable social liberals were named to important portfolios: Carolyn Mulroney Lapham was named Minister of Justice and Attorney General, while Christine Elliott was named Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. Mulroney Lapham and Elliott finished third and second, respectively, in the leadership race in March.

Elliott, however, might present some opportunities in the health portfolio. Gunnarson said he hopes she does not expand abortion services, especially the abortion pill in rural areas, under pressure from pro-abortion groups. But he said Elliott, a patients’ rights and disability rights activist, might enact end-of-life protections. Gunnarson also hopes Elliott will be open to providing conscience protection for healthcare workers.

Lisa Thompson is the new Minister of Education. Little is known about the rural MPP, but during committee hearings on the bubble zone, she pushed for a quick approval of the anti-free speech zones around Ontario abortion facilities. However, she never publicly supported the Wynne sex-ed curriculum and she voted against Bill 13, the anti-parental rights legislation that, among other policies, instituted gay-straight alliances. Gunnarson said the grassroots should let Thompson and her office know that voters expect her to carry out the Ford promise of repealing sex-ed and having consultations with concerned parents before writing a new sex-ed curriculum.

Gunnarson said CLC was worried about reports that had Lisa McLeod getting the education portfolio and possibly deputy premier. McLeod, a Red Tory and social liberal, led the PC charge in favour of Wynne’s bubble zone legislation last October and is a key ally of the LGB Tories, having long marched in Pride parades in both Toronto and Ottawa. Ford gave her a wide-ranging portfolio, Minister of children, community and social services and minister responsible for women’s issues. Gunnarson said McLeod could push a socially left-wing agenda with these responsibilities, most notably with respect to Children’s Aid agencies and adoption services.

Ford has always denied he was a social conservative, but holds many views shared by pro-life and pro-family voters. He was also clear that he ran to address economic issues. But as both CLC and PAFE have pointed out, part of the Ford brand is his authenticity and being a voice for people who often feel excluded from the political process. Both groups remind supporters that it is the responsibility of pro-life and pro-family voters, not just organizations committed to these causes, to hold the new government, premier, and MPPs to account. From campaign promises to new governing attitudes about openness and free votes, there are opportunities to at least nudge the province in a different direction on a range of social policies.