It is hardly a secret that candidates for political office do not always keep their promises, and yet voters get fooled time and time again by politicians vowing to do this or that. Many voters assume that when a politician speaks he or she is lying, cynically believing that a promise made on the campaign trail is unlikely to be kept. Jokes, like the actress Shirley MacLaine’s, “It’s useless to hold a person to anything he says while he’s in love, drunk, or running for office” become aphorisms, homey truths. While we are all for the realism that recognizes many promises are not going to be implemented, this cynicism is not good for the polity. Cynicism can breed indifference, or worse, leading us to expect dishonesty from those who want to represent and lead us, and settle for the meaningless words that emanate from the mouths of politicians.
Pro-life and pro-family voters in Canada are not accustomed to promises that excite us about candidates; rare is the politician who takes a positive position on life and family issues rather than stand for the wrong principles or run from the right ones.
During the 2018 Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leadership, Doug Ford ran against the “liberal ideology” of Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum, saying he would repeal it. Whether he personally held that view or found it necessary to articulate the position to win over Tanya Granic Allen supporters in the preferential ballot used in the leadership contest, we do not know. However, after winning the leadership, Ford would reiterate his position that the radical sex-ed curriculum of Wynne would have to go and he would have real consultations with parents. Pro-family voters were hopeful that Ford meant what he said – after all his brand is that he’s authentic, the guy who does what he says.
Soon after Ford and his cabinet were sworn in last summer following their majority victory – an election where many PC voters, especially within some ethnic communities came out in unprecedented numbers for Ford, in part because of his professed concern about what Ontario’s children were being taught in health class about sex and gender – the government announced it would repeal the Wynne sex-ed program. Almost immediately, his Education Minister Lisa Thompson began to backtrack, surrendering piece by piece what repeal meant and it soon became clear that teachers could use the curriculum as a guide for sex-ed instruction in the classroom. Legal arguments made on behalf of the Education Ministry in both the courts and human rights tribunal confirmed this fact.
We do not know the political machinations that have led to this broken promise. We do not know if Doug Ford’s advisers in the premier’s office advised that he retreat from the promise to scrap Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum. We do not know if the Premier gave his Education Minister the independence to act on her own. We do not know if the process was hijacked by bureaucrats. But whatever the reason, the fact remains that Ford has broken his promise to both his leadership voters and provincial election supporters by letting the revamped curriculum resemble the Wynne curriculum in its most important details. While the actual curriculum is not being released until May, Thompson’s press conference last month and media reports indicate that the new sex-ed curriculum is largely a recycled document from the Wynne instructions Ford rightly condemned as “Liberal ideology.” Some sensitive topics (homosexuality, gender theory) will be taught later in elementary school. That’s not what Ford’s supporters voted for. On sex-ed, it’s promise made, promise broken.
Niccolo Machiavelli writes in hisrealpolitikmanual The Prince, “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes circumstances change. Sometimes new information comes to light. Sometimes other arguments win the day. But all the problems with Wynne’s sex-ed curriculum that existed when it was implemented in 2016 and taught until last year, remain. Perhaps Ford or Thompson want to placate certain stakeholders rather than address the concerns of parents. But this goes against type for Ford, who sticks with his early backers. We renew our call for the Premier to fire his Education Minister Lisa Thompson and call anew for him to revisit his decision to recycle the Liberal ideology of unscientific gender theory and other problems within the curriculum.
As for pro-life and pro-family voters we urge you resist the temptation of cynicism, a variant of the sin of despair. Many will be tempted to eschew politics – “a pox on all their houses” – that results in abandoning the public square to those who push the envelope on life and family to undermine both. This is unwise. Others give up by settling for less or abandoning pro-life principles altogether in the voting booth. This, too, is foolish. Both of these reactions are understandable but unjustifiable. These reactions are emotional, and while it may feel good to give up, move on, or focus on something else, there is no need to abandon both our faith and our reason by surrendering our principles. The promise-breakers can be defeated in the next election and we can bide our time looking for a new champion to uphold the dignity of every human life and to protect the sanctity of the family. The American columnist George Will once reminded readers that elections are not canonizations: they are easily undone given the passage of a few years. That is, we can change our minds about who we elect to lead and govern. In the meantime, let your elected officials know they have disappointed you, tell them what they need to do to earn your support again, and look for other candidates to vote for in the upcoming election who deserve the support of pro-life and pro-family voters. But for the sake of all that good, do not succumb to cynicism.