Sunday, August 28, 2016

Patrick Brown Flips on "Sex-Ed" Curriculum

A year after appearing to pledge support for revised sexual health components of Ontario's Health and Physical Education curriculum, Progressive Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown seems to have changed his mind. Mr Brown, who represents Simcoe North, recently distributed a letter promising to withdraw the curriculum if the Tories win a majority in a projected 2018 Provincial election. The release of the letter, which coincides with a byelection in Scarborough-Rouge River has been seen as a move to bolster the chances of Raymond Cho, the Tory candidate for the riding. Meanwhile, activists opposed to the curriculum had been hoping to make this a wedge issue in the election. Mr Brown's apparent change of heart is not really a surprise, but that's going to take some explaining.

We begin with Mr Brown, speaking to Toronto Life magazine in an article published July 29, 2015. When asked about his views on children learning about gender identity, given that he had voted against Trans rights legislation federally in 2011, the leader was concise: "I’m comfortable with teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity." In the same interview, he declined to go into specifics about what he did object to in the document. Still, this flies in the face of a statement made by Brown just last June, saying he would not withdraw the curriculum if his party formed the next government.

The grades one-to-eight curriculum, which had not been updated since 1998, was first introduced by the Liberal Government of Ontario under Dalton McGuinty in 2010. Conservative religious activists mobilized immediately, decrying lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity as age-inappropriate and counter to their religious beliefs. Premier McGuinty withdrew the document two days later, promising a "rethink." His successor, Kathleen Wynne reintroduced the curriculum in early 2015, insisting that it would be rolled out during the subsequent school year -- a year that was marked by protests, large and small, that seemed to fizzle by the spring of 2016.

Enter Scarborough-Rouge River independent candidate Queenie Yu, a local resident whose campaign website, StopWynneSexEd.com, declares, "YU WILL FIGHT WYNNE'S SEX-ED AGENDA" at the top of every page. In an all-candidates Q&A with InsideToronto.com, Ms Yu cites withdrawing the curriculum in answer to a question on "What is the most important issue in Scarborough-Rouge River?":
The reason I am running is to remind voters of Wynne’s disastrous 2015 “sex-ed curriculum”.  The Liberals  - supported by the NDP - have introduced changes that are completely “age inappropriate”. Ontario schools are now teaching things to children at far too young an age. This “sexualization” of children has many parents very upset. Parents do not receive notice of when the material will be taught so they have no real chance to keep their children home that day. To protect our children, the Wynne sex-ed curriculum must be repealed. 
Ms Yu is not entirely correct. No, Ontario schools are not required to give advance notice of any instruction in curriculum. Further, the Ministry of Education has been clear there is no formal opt out for curriculum items that align with human rights, such as discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation. However, parents and guardians may indicate specific curriculum items they are concerned about to the school principal. This could give them the option of keeping their children home.

Which brings us back to Patrick Brown, a former Federal Conservative Party of Canada MP, whose successful Ontario Tory leadership bid drew praise from Campaign Life Coalition, and from Canada Christian College founder Charles McVety. Mr McVety, along with the late former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, had endorsed Monte McNaughton, who put the withdrawal of the curriculum and other socially conservative issues front and centre in his campaign. Mr McNaughton's campaign never lived to see the balloons blown up at the convention.

Even after winning the Tory leadership and his own seat, Patrick Brown stayed clear of the curriculum protests, leaving Mr McNaughton to tilt against sex-ed windmills. Eyebrows were likely raised when Mr Brown marched with the LGBTory Caucus in the 2015 Toronto Pride Parade -- a first for an Ontario Tory leader. 


Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown at
Toronto Pride Parade, 2015. Photo by Gordon Nore.
Ms Yu's campaign in Scarborough-Rouge has the backing of the self-described parental rights group Parents As First Educators. Though not a household name, PAFE has been prominent in the protest against the curriculum. Its president is Tanya Granic Allen, who has been a spokesperson for Campaign Life Coalition, an anti-abortion group. From Ms Granic Allen's statement supporting Yu:
Kathleen Wynne refuses to listen to parents demands to withdraw her disastrous s/x-ed curriculum. The NDP and Liberals agree with Wynne. I'm afraid Patrick Brown hasn't been strong on the issue either. Brown pretended to disapprove of Kathleen Wynne's s/x-ed agenda in 2015. Now he says: " I wasn't pointing out specific criticisms at the curriculum." Where does Patrick Brown and PC Party really stand on this issue? We need to send a STRONG message to Kathleen Wynne and Patrick Brown that Ontario parents MUST be listened to. We are sick of the rhetoric- we demand action.
Patrick Brown to the rescue. As quoted in The Toronto Star newspaper, Mr Brown's letter reads, "I believe sex-ed is important, but it cannot be significantly changed without extensively consulting the primary educators of children, who have always been parents." All of this omits that the 2010 document was the result of considerable consultation. "That document," writes Kathryn Blaze Carlson for the National Post newspaper in 2011, "was based on a two-year consultation with 700 students, 70 organizations and more than 2,000 individuals."

In a protest that has been marked with fibs and fabrications that would make the Trump campaign blush, it's no accident Mr Brown's statements on the curriculum avoid any direct criticism of what is actually to be taught. Same for Queenie Yu's campaign website. Since the re-issue of the document in early 2015, leaders of local protests have warned of grade one children disrobing in class for lessons on body parts; children being "turned gay"; boys being told they are girls, and girls being told they are boys. The Ottawa Citizen newspaper's David Reevely summed it up nicely in his September 2015 piece: Sex-education protest organizers are just making things up now.

So why would Mr Brown speak out now? Scarborough-Rouge River has been a Liberal stronghold since it was created in 1999. Eyeing a 2018 general election, the Toronto east riding would make a nice trophy for the new Tory leader, but the Progressive Conservative candidate, Raymond Cho, has an uphill battle. While he is the current Toronto City Councillor for the riding, his previous aspirations to higher office in Scarborough-Rouge have not panned out -- that's two federal campaigns, running as a independent and a New Democrat; one provincial, as a Tory.

It seems unlikely that Queenie Yu will take the riding as an unknown independent, but in a tight race, running a single issue campaign, she might take single issue voters. Brown's letter offers them sanctuary in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. His timing is impeccable (in a devious way), with the legislative assembly in recess, opposition MPPs won't be able to call him on the ploy before the September 1st, 2016, election is over. 

Additionally, Raymond Cho's campaign is co-chaired by former Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford, brother to the late Rob Ford. A win in Scarborough-Rouge is also a chance to revive FordNation in Toronto, as Mr Brown sets his sights on the 2018 election.

Whether or not this gambit gives Brown and the Tories a leg up in Toronto, news of the letter is being felt deeply by advocates for the curriculum. Doug Kerr is the founder of the Facebook group, People for Ontario's Sex-Ed Curriculum, which has networked parents, teachers and activists around the Province. "As a gay father with a child in the public school system," he says, "I'm incredibly disappointed. There was an opportunity for all parties to stand united in support of the curriculum, but instead Brown chose to side with anti-gay groups who are afraid of their kids learning about LGBT people. This is a disgusting attempt to throw out a divisive wedge issue just days before the byelection in Scarborough."


Pflag Toronto President Anne Creighton speaking at Toronto City Hall, 2015.
Background, LTR: Toronto Mayor John Tory,
City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, and NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo
Photo by Gordon Nore
Pflag Toronto President Anne Creighton agrees: "The new Health and Physical Education curriculum is a gift to children.  It tells them that they are ok even if they are different. That there's nothing wrong with being who they are. How can anyone see something sinister in that?"