Premier Doug Ford is ducking questions about whether consent, cyberbullying and gender identity will be included in sexual education lessons this fall.
Stoking further confusion over his government’s repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum in favour of the 1998 version, Ford wouldn’t say, when asked in the legislature Tuesday, what will be in the syllabus being taught this year.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pressed him about ensuring that key elements from the 2015 update are retained even though the older curriculum, which predates same-sex marriage and social media, has been revived.
“Will the premier confirm that all information about consent, cyberbullying and gender identity from the updated health curriculum will be taught in Ontario’s classrooms this September?” Horwath asked.
The NDP leader reminded Ford that Health Minister Christine Elliott had said Monday that “issues related to self-identity and self-expression will be included in the curriculum this fall.”
“Will the premier confirm that all information about sexual orientation, gender identity and LGBTQ families from the updated health curriculum will be taught in Ontario schools this coming September?” asked Horwath.
“That’s not up to us to decide in this chamber, it’s up to the people,” Ford replied. “I know you don’t believe in consulting with the people. We don’t believe in the nanny state. We don’t believe in politicians dictating to the people.”
In response, Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond took to Twitter.
“Those in that ‘chamber’ in 2014-5 didn’t decide what would be in the current HPE (health and physical education) curriculum,” tweeted Hammond. “It was parents, teachers, educators, health-care professionals, some 70 health-care organizations, universities, and the list goes on.”
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the Tories are bungling the file.
“They don’t know what they’re doing right now,” said Fraser, emphasizing there is nothing wrong with the 239-page curriculum introduced in 2015 when Liberal Kathleen Wynne was premier.
“The curriculum is there to protect children — to make sure they can say no, they can understand differences, visible and invisible, and acceptance, healthy relationships, and the internet,” he said.
“It’s been taught for three years. I don’t understand why they need to repeal it.”
The 1998 syllabus is 42 pages and does not include LGBT issues, consent, or cyber safety, although there is one mention of the “World Wide Web.”
Ford has reverted to it to appease social conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage and abortion. Their support was instrumental to his winning the March 10 PC leadership.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said “the government is creating chaos and confusion for teachers.”
“We’re going back to school in (about) a month and teachers have no idea what they’re supposed to teach. The story changes every day,” said Schreiner.
“They’re getting pushback from the public, but they’ve backed themselves into a corner they can’t get out of.”
Meanwhile, Education Minister Lisa Thompson, who has avoided reporters on the issue for more than a week, was attending the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Canadian regional conference in Ottawa.
Thompson, who is tasked with overseeing Ford’s province-wide consultation on a new curriculum for 2019-20, is expected back at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie