And here we go again.
Years after the Ontario government introduced reasonable updates to the province’s sex education curriculum, the perennial dog whistle has again become a screaming bullhorn.
The first debate in the Progressive Conservative leadership race felt like Ontario’s own version of Groundhog Day. But while Bill Murray is subjected to the relatively minor annoyances of small-town life, Ontarians are doomed to an infinite loop of listening to social conservatives say “anal sex” loudly, with as much disdain as they can muster.
There was a time when it seemed that the Progressive Conservative party was done with the issue. Patrick Brown, riding a wave of anti–sex ed fervor, had captured the party leadership and then promptly turned on the social conservatives who had helped put him into the position.
But after Brown’s resignation, all of that simmering resentment has come to a boil.
“I’m hearing across the province that people are sick and tired of the Liberal ideology that’s being shoved down their throats,” Doug Ford said, revealingly.
Tanya Granic Allen, the self-appointed vessel for social conservative indignation, mused that maybe students’ math scores could be improved if only they weren’t talking about anal sex in the classroom so much.
But the biggest surprise has been Christine Elliott’s capitulation to the anti–sex ed forces within her own party.
“I am not in favour of the current sex-ed curriculum either,” she said. “We need to open up the curriculum, we need to listen to what the parents have to say, because they know their children best and they know the age at which children should be learning things.”
Elliott has been one of the most consistent supporters of LGBT rights within the Progressive Conservative party. So the fact even she feels the need to repeat the shibboleths of the so-con right proves that energy in the party is with the puritan cranks.
Only Caroline Mulroney held fast on a pledge to not change the curriculum. Though she wasn’t above taking shots at it either.
“I believe as the other candidates do, that parents were not adequately consulted on this curriculum,” she said.
The same old lies were on display: that children are being given instructional lessons on anal and oral sex, that parents and teachers were never consulted.
Forget that changing sex ed is nowhere in the PC platform, the document that the eventual leader will have to take to Ontarian voters in the upcoming election.
Of course, the details of the sex-education curriculum has never been the point. Instead, the underlying conviction is that a lesbian premier is trying to indoctrinate the province’s children towards sexual degeneracy.
And all of this political wrangling could have serious consequences for children in Ontario.
“We all grew up in the Ontario school system and we know what it was like,” Eric Lorenzen, the vice-president of communications for LGBTory, told me the day before the Feb 15 debate. “And no group of students has been more negatively impacted from a lack of healthy sex ed than the LGBT community.”
Lorenzen is dismayed that his party is again capitulating to the likes of Granic Allen and Charles McVety, who has put his support squarely behind Ford.
“I don’t want people like Charles McVety and the Campaign Life Coalition having any influence in the premier’s office,” he said.
And he sees trouble ahead for the PCs if they continue kowtowing to the most regressive elements of their party.
“If you want to push a so-con agenda in the party and you’re content to sit in the dark reaches of the opposition benches until the end of time, then fine,” he said. “But it’s not going to appeal to the voters that the party needs to form a government in June.”
Lorenzen is right.
And what’s even more worrying is how effective the social conservative voices were in the debate. While Granic Allen is being written off as a single issue candidate, she was by far the most effective presence during the debate. Punchy and polished, Granic Allen came across as someone with actual passion and was willing to take shots at the other candidates to get her point across.
While she may not have much in the way of institutional support, she is a practiced organizer who helped Brad Trost make it to the final four of the federal Conservative leadership race.
And in as strange a leadership race as this, that organizing prowess, and the many thousands of members of Parents As First Educators, the group that Granic Allen helms, could be the difference maker.
It’s still highly unlikely Granic Allen will win the race, but the other candidates will surely be angling to be her voters’ second choices.
And if the social conservatives do actually make it to the premier’s office, we might be praying for the days when the worst things we were subjected to was watching them say “anal sex” over and over and over again.