What Ontario students are learning about sex and when they're learning it is now an issue in the Progressive Conservative leadership race to replace Patrick Brown, who stepped down in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct.
Doug Ford announced Monday that if he wins the leadership and goes on to win the June election and become Ontario's premier, he would revisit the province's sex education curriculum. It's been a source of controversy since Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government introduced an updated version of it in 2015.
"Sex ed curriculum should be about facts, not teaching Liberal ideology," said Ford, one of three registered candidates in the leadership race, speaking outside a high school.
Ford said he will "stand for parents" having the first and final say about what their kids are taught.
Opponents of the revised curriculum argue some of the concepts related to gender identity, sexual activity and sexual orientation are not age-appropriate or shouldn't be taught at all. Multiple protests were held outside the Ontario legislature in 2015, but Wynne's government forged ahead with the changes. Some opponents then formed a political party called Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda.
Ford first floated the idea of reopening the debate over sex education curriculum soon after he announced on Jan. 29 that he was running for leader. Now he's formally made it part of his platform, along with reviewing the curricula of other subjects because, he says, students aren't being prepared well enough for success in life.
Ford and Elliott on same page
Ford said parents weren't properly consulted by Wynne's government, and he promised to "take this issue to the party, the parents and to the voters" if he wins the leadership. He took a shot at his own party, saying its "elites" shut down any debate on the curriculum during the policy development process last year.
Ford's opponents in the race, Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney, have also weighed in on the sex ed curriculum.
Elliott said she believes sex education should be taught in schools but agrees with Ford that Wynne's government didn't consult enough with parents.
Speaking at the Manning Conference in Ottawa on the weekend, she said she holds the same position now as she did in 2015, when she was running against Brown for the leadership.
"I would open the curriculum up again, listen to what parents have to say," Elliott said. "If there are changes that need to be made, I would be happy to make those changes." The statement earned her some applause from the audience.
Mulroney is setting herself apart from her competitors on this issue. She agrees that parents must have a louder voice in curriculum revisions, but unlike Ford and Elliott, Mulroney would not undo any changes that have already been made, a spokesperson said Monday.
Fourth candidate trying to run
Would-be leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen calls Ontario's sex ed curriculum "radical." The president of a group called Parents as First Educators says she wants to be a strong voice for socially conservative members of the party, but she needs help to raise the $100,000 required to enter the race by Friday's registration deadline.
The Campaign Life Coalition, an anti-abortion group that is opposed to the revised sex education curriculum, is giving credit to Allen for putting the issue in the spotlight again.
Linking to Ford's news conference on its website, the group says Allen's intention to run forced Ford and Elliott to take a strong stand on the issue. The Campaign Life Coalition did not support Brown and says it's a "good thing" he's gone.
As leader, Brown tried to keep socially conservative issues on the back burner, and he had no intention of making sex education an election issue in June.
Brown resigned on Jan. 24 after CTV News aired a report with two anonymous women who accused him of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Brown has denied the allegations and vowed to clear his name, and has not quit as an MPP
When he was running for leader in 2015, he opposed the curriculum. He later changed his mind and said he supported what it teaches and would not repeal it if elected premier.
Social conservatives were outraged and felt betrayed, but members of the LGBTQ community in the PC party were pleased with his new position.
Eric Lorenzen, a spokesperson for LGBTory Canada, said Tuesday that his group supports the sex ed curriculum and that the rhetoric coming from some of the PC candidates is "quite concerning to us." His group is largely made up of gay conservatives and acts as a liaison between the LGBTQ community and conservative political parties in Canada.
Lorenzen said LGBTory is worried the next leader would revise the curriculum and take language out that advocates tolerance and inclusion for LGBTQ people and families.
He said it's "valid" to have a conversation about when it's age-appropriate to introduce certain topics, such as sexual orientation, but that a wholesale removal of those lessons wouldn't be OK with his group.