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Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown speaks at a protest to the Liberals' sex-ed curriculum Feb. 24 at Queen's Park. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Patrick Brown would do well sticking to the facts

  • May 21, 2015

Pundits and politicians agree: Ontario’s newly minted Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown is in a quagmire.

His problem goes something like this: social conservatives got him elected as leader but pro-life, anti-sex-ed voters aren’t nearly enough to bring the new guy victory in a general election. Sooner or later, they say, Brown must abandon his base.

Brown appears to be a genuine so-con. As an MP, he voted in favour of repealing same-sex marriage and studying Canada’s 400-year-old definition of a human being. He voted against the “transsexual bathroom bill,” legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia and opposed awarding the Order of Canada to Henry Morgentaler. Either Brown is a so-con or he’s satisfied to take some serious hits for his constituents.

But the stakes are higher now. Brown is no longer a federal backbencher from Barrie; he’s a party leader vying for the top job in this nation’s most populous province. The temptation to adopt a populist platform will be tremendous.

Brown may very well give in, and who could blame him? His party was thumped in the provincial elections of 2007, 2011 and 2014 because of missteps by leaders that pushed the PCs to the so-called fringe. Why make moves that could render a similar result in 2018?

Forgive me when I say the soul-searching and strategizing required to answer such questions are his problem. Brown already said he won’t revisit the abortion debate and odds are his cameos at events protesting Ontario’s revised sex-education policy will become more and more infrequent.

Regardless of where Brown ends up, social crusaders mustn’t lose sight of the cause for the sake of the candidate. The PCs just elected their first unabashed social conservative in party leader history (unless one considers Bill Davis’ flip-flop on separate school funding to be something of the sort), which means these are heady times for small-c social conservatives in Ontario.

But if so-cons wish to optimize this unique juncture in the province’s history and secure legitimacy in the long-term, the grassroots might do well to pursue one task: appear more mainstream. That might sound like a tall order in self-styled centrist Ontario, but it is necessary. For starters, they should present the facts but do so with decorum.

On sexual education, simple tactics like gently quoting the new curriculum itself might mitigate some of the mudslinging. While supporters of the policy claim it’s rooted in science, several sections suggest the contrary. On page 197, for example, teachers are instructed to prompt Grade 7 students, “One of the best things you can do to stop HIV is to stop the stigma that is associated with having the infection.” Is that true? Stigmatizing any disease is dreadful but will it quell infection?

On page 216, Grade 8 students are asked, “How would thinking about your personal limits and making a personal plan influence decisions you may choose to make about sexual activity?” Now, hold on. Thirteen-year-olds aren’t supposed to have plans for sexual activity. For 12-year-olds, it’s actually illegal.

In fact, when it comes to social policy, there’s an argument to be made that Brown ought to expand his focus from sexual education to include questions about abortion too. Take the provincial power to defund abortions that are not medically necessary. According to an Angus Reid poll in 2013, 51 per cent of Ontarians — a greater number than support any provincial party — oppose the status quo of forcing taxpayers to finance all abortions, for any reason.

Politicians perpetually avoid the topic because they’re told Canadians don’t want change. The truth is, on abortion, Canadians are totally uninformed. Another Angus Reid poll showed only eight per cent of respondents know abortion is legal during all nine months of gestation.

Stating facts are a so-con’s answer to the “knuckle-dragging,” “religious right” bleats from media and other critics. Facts reveal that so much of what social conservatives defend is not fringe and faith-based alone — it is common sense.

Here’s hoping this favourable moment isn’t bungled, because only God knows when the movement will get another chance.

(Goldy co-hosts The Zoomer on Vision TV in Toronto.)

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