This year will mark a departure from the usual political boredom summer brings, with a cultural battle brewing and a September deadline looming. At stake is when – not if – Ontario’s controversial sexual education curriculum will be repealed.
During the Progressive Conservative leadership race and the general election campaign, Doug Ford was clear: if he wins, the curriculum that subverted meaningful parental consultation is gone.
On election night, Parents as First Educators president and former PC leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen called on the new government to scrap the updated curriculum before the next school year starts. Though Ford said he would discuss timing with his cabinet, he made his intentions clear. “We’re repealing it,” he said in his first post-election news conference.
The pledge was a far cry from even a year ago, when the PC establishment under Patrick Brown saw no place in the party for social conservatives.
Though rolling back the curricular changes may not have been the top priority for the PC party or its candidates, it is still a victory, though not as much as the fact that social policy matters were as openly discussed throughout the campaign.
I saw it firsthand as a Progressive Conservative candidate (albeit a losing one, natch). In this election more than any other I’ve covered as a broadcaster or been otherwise involved in, social conservatives shaped the debate.
The far-left alleged media site Press Progress published a “list of Ontario PC candidates who will vote against the reproductive rights of women,” based on the 13 candidates – myself among them – given green light ratings by the pro-life advocacy group Campaign Life Coalition.
The foreign-funded Lead now, which was relentless in its attacks on Doug Ford, the PC campaign, and me personally, has amassed tens of thousands of signatures for a petition urging the new government to not touch the curriculum, which the organization says has only “scientific facts and unbiased information.”
For the first time in years, the left is actually forced to play defense on social issues in the political sphere.
While there are segments of society – and even within the PC party – who won’t like this, it’s a fact nonetheless. After the Patrick Brown era, it’s all the more important to recognize this.
We know the pattern all too well: in nomination and leadership races, candidates flock to pro-life groups for endorsements and mailing lists, but when the general election rolls around, questions about abortion or choice in education yield crickets.
These flip-flops are enabled by an elite-driven narrative that social and moral issues have no place in political discussions.
Regardless of whether voters are pro-family or not, they should resent the idea that someone else gets to set the parameters for what issues matter.
When I entered the race, it was clear that, as a broadcaster, I had been a consistent fiscal and social conservative voice: parental consultation in sexual education, conscience rights for healthcare practitioners, free speech on campuses. These are all important policies for a government to uphold.
In spite of the conventional political ‘wisdom’ that politicians should steer clear of these “divisive” issues or risk alienating potential supporters, it was the voters themselves who wanted to have these conversations.
It wasn’t simply the active supporter and membership base of pro-life groups, either. Rather, frontline health workers, new Canadians, and parents from all walks of life were raising concerns that government has overzealously injected itself into families.
Christians and Muslims, lifelong Canadians and immigrants, professionals and working class voters were relating to me their concerns about the “radical sex-ed agenda,” the state of religious freedom, and other matters of faith and family – kitchen table issues that the media label as fringe.
I don’t mean to downplay the admirable work of social conservative organizations, but I think most of the credit for this phenomenon is owed to Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau. In telling citizens their views are out of alignment with Canada’s views, or imposing arbitrary ideological purity tests on government funding applications, or in subverting parents of different backgrounds in the education system, lawmakers have awakened a sleeping bear that is now fighting back.
Andrew Lawton is a radio broadcaster and columnist. He was the PC candidate for London West in the 2018 Ontario election.