THE CITY: Scarborough-Rouge River misstep reveals PC party rift on sex-ed
Voters in Scarborough-Rouge River will be casting ballots today in the byelection to replace Liberal MPP Bas Balkisoon — and here’s hoping that by now most of them are clear on at least one key point:
Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown is not planning on scrapping the controversial sex-education plan introduced by Kathleen Wynne.
Early voters — about 4,500 of them who voted in advance polls from Aug. 20 to 26 — can be excused for a bit of confusion. On the weekend, a letter went out from PC candidate Raymond Cho’s campaign, claiming Brown had a very different plan: that the PCs would, if they prevailed in the 2018 provincial election, scrap the whole thing.
On Monday, Brown was forced to clarify, and he did, in an essay published in the Toronto Star. “It was a mistake for a letter to go out to Scarborough-Rouge River voters saying I would “scrap” the updated curriculum. This is not my view. This is not what I will do.”
What he would do, wrote Brown, is consult on future additions to the curriculum. The local campaign parsed those words, somehow, to mean that he would also get rid of what was there.
It’s a pretty big shift on the part of the ground campaign. Brown was, after all, on record firmly as supporting Wynne’s sex-education plan, in spite of protests from some parents who are fearful of its frank inclusion of subjects such as LGBTQ and trans-gender issues, masturbation, consent and contraception.
Such a shift might, indeed, convince some of those parents living in the riding to vote for Progressive Conservative candidate Raymond Cho.
Of course, Brown has made it clear that he doesn’t want votes on that basis. Based on his own leadership, it would be duplicitous, and it’s to his credit that he’s unwilling to win an election that way.
What this summer byelection misstep does show is what could remain an existential rift in the Progressive Conservative party heading into the main game in 2018: the gap between a socially-conservative wing of the party, and the fiscally-conservative, socially-centrist wing that dominated during Bill Davis’ Blue Machine era last century and still held sway to a degree during the more tumultuous Mike Harris years in the late 1990s and early aughts.
Ontario’s PCs have been in the middle of a tug of war since that time. John Tory tried and failed to achieve a mandate pulling the party back to the centre. Tim Hudak likewise failed to bring the party back to power by pulling much farther to the right.
Whatever the outcome of today’s byelection in Scarborough-Rouge River, Brown will have to decide how he will lead through the main game in 2018. The Cho campaign in Scarborough-Rouge River (managed, it should be noted, by former city councillor and mayoral candidate Doug Ford) has made it clear that there may be an appetite, on the ground in Scarborough at least, for a hard-right, socially-conservative pendulum swing.
And even if there’s not that much appetite on the ground… clearly, there is, as there ever has been, a powerful hunger within the party itself.
On that, there should be no confusion.