For more than two years, the Ontario Tories have managed to skirt around the kind of social-conservative flashpoints that have brought them little but grief in the past. However, as the party’s leadership race picks up momentum — and a surprise potential fourth candidate — that unofficial moratorium appears to be ending.
While Two of the three most prominent contenders have said they will at least revisit the controversial new sex-education curriculum introduced by the Liberal government, the newest would-be entrant — Tanya Granic Allen, head of a parents group that opposed the sex-ed revamp — is pledging to make sex-ed and similar issues her prime focus.
Pro-life groups are suddenly energized, and hope the candidates will also debate the Liberal law passed last fall that created “bubble zones” around abortion clinics, rendering pro-life protests illegal within 50 metres.
Demonstrators in front of the Ontario legislature at Queen’s Park to protest the government’s recently announced changes to the sex ed curriculum on Tuesday February 24, 2015.
“We have been crying for three years, unwanted in our party, but now are back in the fold,” said Charles McVety, Ontario’s most prominent evangelical Christian activist.
Allen said she will use her candidacy to “force” those issues to the fore — so long as she raises the $100,000 needed to officially run.
“There are a lot of grass-roots conservatives who feel disenfranchised, who feel shut out of this party,” she said in an interview Friday. “I’m here to be their voice.”
For the other candidates, cautiously reaching out to social conservatives may well be a “shrewd” short-term strategy, says pollster Greg Lyle, head of the Innovative Research Group.
In an abbreviated leadership contest where signing up new members is crucial to victory, Christian and pro-life groups could be mobilized relatively easily with the right policies, generating significant support, he said.
But campaigning against the sex-ed program in a general election, where social conservatives would make up only about 20 per cent of the electorate, is another matter, he said.
“It’s a very risky thing for the Conservatives,” said Lyle. “If the 80 per cent that don’t believe in socially conservative values feel you might then try and impose those values on them, then the backlash would not be worth the price.”
To understand the perils of a social-conservative-tinged platform, Conservatives need look back no further than their loss in the 2007 election. Then-leader John Tory’s promise of government funding for faith-based schools proved a policy catastrophe.