Last week, Ontario’s new government was sworn in, and while this government is technically new, it harkens back to a past that should not be revisited. With the announcement of his cabinet and the associated parliamentary assistants, Doug Ford’s agenda is on full display with much reason for caution and suspicion.
Between the elimination of a ministry dedicated especially to Indigenous relations, the appointment of a training, colleges and universities minister who elicited controversy with Islamophobic commentary and relegating the Ministry of the Status of Women to “women’s issues” as part of another ministry, it seems Ford set out to scattershot as much offensiveness as possible.
These are merely a few examples of distracting from the individual problems of his campaign, and undoubtedly, many more will come to light. One of the ways we can undermine this attempt is to focus in on one of the most egregious appointments, that of Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff as the parliamentary assistant to the minister of education.
Throughout his campaign, Ford pandered and dog-whistled to Ontario’s social conservative, anti-science, anti-human rights, right-wing hate brigade, exemplified by people like Charles McVety and Tanya Granic Allen. However, this comes as no surprise: these are the people who gave him the nomination, a debt that is now being partly repaid with Oosterhoff’s appointment.
Oosterhoof represents a part of the political landscape that is antithetical to the presumed norms and values of many Ontarians. He is unabashedly conservative, having quoted sites that criticize same-sex couples on his personal social media accounts.
In November 2016, he avoided questions from reporters about whether he dodged voting on a bill that recognizes same-sex parents’ rights and refused to elaborate on a tweet that he posted the day before saying that the bill was “disrespectful to mothers and fathers.” Despite refusing to clarify his stance on sex education, he stated that he is “100-per-cent pro-life” that same year.
More concerning in light of his new role is his history of being homeschooled, and having no background in education beyond advocating the removal of comprehensive and scientifically-valid sex education.
Lisa Thompson, the minister he will be assisting, also has no discernible background in education policy, curriculum development or any other facet of public education — unless, of course, her experience as a managerial goatherd is somehow transferable to corralling kindergartners.
We should absolutely have farmers, ranchers and goatherds as elected members and cabinet ministers, but if that is the totality of their experience, perhaps agriculture is a policy area better suited to their expertise.
There are real questions about what will happen to education in Ontario and how Oosterhoff will exercise his influence. Will religious schooling be given funding priority over public schooling? Will the sex education curriculum be reformed to impose a gag rule on discussions of queer and trans identities and abortion? Will homeschooling associations remain subject to established standards and quality assessment by the ministry of education?
Oosterhoff’s politics are concerning enough, but with the power offered with his appointment, he has the potential to — in line with Ford’s agenda — turn back the clock on education policy to the detriment of students, parents and teachers. Any attempt he makes to influence legislation, policy and the curriculum should be met with the utmost scrutiny.
Accordingly, journalists and public commentators have a particular duty to hold him accountable, especially concerning the minister’s direct responsibilities, which include curriculum development, setting school board guidelines, setting graduation requirements and choosing textbooks.
We should all be rightfully wary of Oosterhoff’s politics, lest this assistant to the minister of education ends up schooling us.