Doug Ford wants to tie government funds for universities to free speech on campus, he announced ahead of the start of the official campaign period for the provincial election in Ontario coming up on June 7th.
“Universities are supposed to be a place where we exchange ideas and have respectful and responsible debate,” Ford announced on Tuesday as part of his education platform. “We will ensure publicly funded universities defend free speech for everybody.”
Ford and the Ontario PCs plan to expand the mandate for the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), which oversees the quality of education provided by colleges and universities in the province, to include a complaints and investigations process to evaluate violations of free speech, the campaign told VICE News in a statement.
"Post-secondary funding decisions will be tied to the results of the HEQCO’s investigations and, thereby, the willingness of university administrators to protect free speech for all students and faculty," said the statement.
Beyond this, Ford has said little about what he considers to be a free speech violation or what kind of speech should be protected.
Ford has also vowed to scrap and replace the Liberal government’s controversial sex ed curriculum and to bring the province’s math curriculum “back to basics.”
Free speech on campuses has become hot-button issue in Ontario in recent years, with a number of universities becoming embroiled in controversies, including Wilfred Laurier University, where teaching assistant Lindsay Shephard was reprimanded by university officials for airing a clip of University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson. Peterson himself skyrocketed to fame for his refusal to use gender neutral pronouns, and has since become a hero of the free speech movement and the alt-right.
Last year, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said his party would ensure that universities that don’t protect free speech don’t receive federal research funds, but that the policy wouldn’t apply to "extreme examples" like white nationalist rallies.
Ford also vowed to temporarily replace the current sex ed curriculum, introduced by the Liberals in 2015, with the previous one, which had been in place since 1998, until a new “age-appropriate” curriculum could be implemented — “only after real consultation with parents occurs.”
The current sex ed curriculum sparked outrage in Ontario, mainly among faith groups, when it was first introduced, with opponents zeroing in on content about same sex marriage, masturbation, and gender identity. They argued that parts of the curriculum were being introduced to children too early and that issues surrounding sex and gender should be taught at home by parents.
The announcement came just days after Ford dropped Tania Granic Allen, an outspoken critic of the province’s sex ed curriculum, as a candidate after the Liberals revealed homophobic statements she had made in the past. Granic Allen, who also ran for the PC leadership and encouraged her base of socially conservative supporters to vote for Ford, tweeted on Tuesday that she was pleased he planned to repeal the curriculum.
While Ford hasn’t said what part of the sex ed curriculum he has a problem with, he says parents weren’t consulted enough.
“For too long the Liberals have ignored Ontario parents,” Ford said Tuesday. “They have introduced the sex curriculum based on ideology – a curriculum that teaches sensitive topics starting at an early age.”
He said in a news release that under Premier Kathleen Wynne “schools have been turned into social laboratories and our kids into test subjects for whatever special interests and so-called experts that have captured Kathleen Wynne’s ear.”