New Brunswick premier wants to gut sex education: former education minister
FREDERICTON — A former New Brunswick education minister says he believes Premier Blaine Higgs recently ordered a review of the province's policy on sexual orientation in schools because he has a plan to gut sex education.
Dominic Cardy, who resigned from cabinet last October, said Wednesday his allegation is based on what he has heard from sources within the government and his own interactions with Higgs.
"It's a reflection of the premier's personal beliefs that there should be less-complete sex education for New Brunswick students," Cardy said in an interview. "The premier really gets uncomfortable when anyone talks about sex. Sadly, that's the root of it."
Higgs, who is on a working visit to Europe this week, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Cardy said that when he was in the Progressive Conservative cabinet, Higgs made it clear during a meeting that he was uncomfortable with the textbook used for sex education in middle schools because it contained pictures of naked people.
"It's not anything erotic," said Cardy, who now sits as an Independent after serving as education minister from 2018 to 2022.
"It's designed to teach the kids about their own anatomy .... And if you're evidence-driven, it's shown to be the best way to educate kids, in terms of making them feel better about themselves, having sex later in life, not getting pregnant, avoiding (sexually transmitted infections) and having healthy relationships."
Cardy said Higgs was confused by the difference between the sex education curriculum and the province's policy on sexual orientation and gender identity, known as Policy 713.
"The premier's concerns were odd, vague and seemed driven by an overall feeling of unease ... and believing that his unease should be imposed on New Brunswick's adolescents, to their own detriment."
Policy 713 says school staff must create a culture where LGBTQ students "see themselves and their lives positively reflected in the school environment." Among other things, the policy calls on schools to provide personnel with opportunities to understand the needs of LGBTQ students, and offer students access to washrooms "that align with their gender identity."
On Tuesday, Education Minister Bill Hogan said the Progressive Conservative government decided to conduct a review of Policy 713 a few months ago after it heard concerns raised by a variety of groups, including parents and teachers.
On Wednesday, Hogan said his office had received hundreds of complaints about the curriculum without being specific. But he then raised the issue of gender identity.
"There would be a question as to what is an age-appropriate place for a student to be introduced to that topic," he said. "We need to clarify what the expectations are for teachers so that parents are aware of what is going on."
Cardy said that when he had the education portfolio, he didn't receive any complaints about the policy, which he introduced in 2020.
"(Higgs) clearly had issues with Policy 713," Cardy said. "He's never been particularly clear about what those are, and he remains the only person who expressed any significant concerns around the policy."
When he resigned last fall, Cardy released a blistering letter criticizing Higgs's leadership style, and he accused the premier of wanting to take a "wrecking ball'' to the education system.
Outside the legislature, Hogan was asked Wednesday if the premier was behind the policy review. He said he doesn't speak for the premier, and he rejected the idea that the government is trying to gain more control over what is taught in schools. "That's absolutely false," he said.
Hogan did not answer directly when asked if the province's curriculum on sex education was being reviewed. Instead, he cited the need to look into something called "personal growth and development," which refers to the part of the curriculum that deals with gender identity and sexual behaviour, among other things.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2023.
— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax
The Canadian Press