Ford sells out his base with reversal on sex ed

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford announcing funding for road project in Pelham. Image: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

When we last left Ontario Premier Doug Ford, he was supposed to be taking a summer break from the bad news headlines.

Not unlike the schoolyard bully placed in detention, he was sent to sit in the corner, be quiet and not make it any more difficult for federal Conservative hopefuls to campaign in his crucial province where candidates were being berated on voters' doorsteps about all the Ford missteps in his disastrous first year at Queen's Park.

But no.

Instead, in just the past few days alone, Ford and his laughably named Progressive Conservatives let it be known that conservation methods for flood prevention were being cancelled, promised school fee breaks for college students were not as generous as originally touted, Toronto's coffers would still be ravaged by cuts to public health, and every single gas station in the province had to stick up deceptive decals about the federal "carbon tax" or else face fines of up to $10,000.

That's not all.

The government is going to court yet again, this time to sue Ontario's information and privacy commissioner to prevent the release of the "mandate letters" -- i.e. marching orders -- Ford issued to all his government ministers. (One can only presume that, as part of their missions, rising to their feet and wildly clapping every time Ford spoke in the legislature was job one.)

But then, just as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association was threatening a legal challenge to the mandatory gas pump stickers, claiming that they contravened the freedom of expression section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, word came that the Ford government was backpedalling, stating that gas station owners would not be fined after all.

As for the cruelty that the government had displayed to the parents of autistic children by cutting millions and millions from critical supports and programs, these too would substantially be cancelled and funding restored… next year.

These, however, were not the most sensational reversals.

Instead, the selling out of Ford's base, the one that lifted him up and into the premier's chair, the one he rewarded with the gutting of modern sex education, was the biggest shock.

Led by the controversial evangelical anti-LGBTQ preacher Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, as well as Tanya Granic Allen, Ford's former Conservative leadership rival, and president of Parents As First Educators (PAFE), which says sex education is the parents' responsibility, these socially conservative voters counted on Ford to eliminate all talk of "gender fluidity" from the classroom.

Which he promptly did, killing the former government's 2015 health and physical education program and replacing it with one from the last century, one drawn up before texting, sexting, social media and all the other online hazards children face today.

He even created what one union leader called a "snitch line" website so that parents could tattle on teachers who did not revert to the days when Snapchat and TikTok were sci-fi.

But that was last year, when Ford shared a stage with McVety and announced, "We're bringing change to the education system. We're reforming the education system."

According to Ford back then, that system "ignored Ontario parents," and was "based on ideology."

This week, just before kids go back to school, recently appointed education minister Stephen Lecce announced that Ontario's sex-ed program was going back to the future. The new curriculum would be almost identical to the 2015 curriculum, with a few tweaks regarding concussions and cannabis. All this for a reported one million dollars wasted on "parental consultations."

What's more, sexual orientation was back in the book, with discussions bumped up a year earlier, to Grade 5. And, while parents could opt their kids out, gender identity was still there, albeit not until Grade 8.

This infuriated Allen who tweeted that Ford was a "liar" and then, on Thursday, led a protest outside MPP Vijay Thanigasalam's riding office, where Lecce was supposed to be.

As for McVety, his immediate reaction seemed to be confusion. He tweeted that it was a "Great Day for Children of Ontario and Parental Authority - The Radical Sex Ed is Gone."

Which led to Allen scolding him, "The radical Wynne sex-ed is still there - ALL OF IT. And gender identity is mentioned 40 times. This curriculum is another Doug Ford betrayal. Ford LIED to the parents."

All this can only lead to one conclusion.

Rather than staying out of sight while his poll numbers find new lows, Ford may well have been instructed by his federal counterparts, rumoured to be ruled by former prime minister Stephen Harper, to start undoing the damage done.

But it won't be enough. Not when Toronto is being hit by ever-changing and increasingly expensive back-of-the-napkin plans for transit and insufficient funds for restaurant health inspections, while the province still faces another season of disastrous floods.

And that's just the tip of the melting iceberg.

If Ford were to be graded on his performance bolstering Andrew Scheer's chances at winning a federal Conservative government this fall, he wouldn't just get an "F," he would be kicked back a year. Just like he did to Ontario.

In fact, he probably would be kicked out of class -- right out of his party's leadership.

Antonia Zerbisias, former CBC-TV journalist and Toronto Star columnist, writes about society, media and politics.

Image: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

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