08/07/2018 14:38 EDT | Updated 08/07/2018 14:42 EDT

Christine Elliott Should Listen To Health Care Professionals On Ontario Sex Ed, Not Ford: NDP

Nearly 1,800 health-care workers urge PCs to scrap their plans.

Chris Young/CP
Ontario Deputy Premier Christine Elliott talks with journalists following question period at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Aug. 1, 2018.

Ontario's deputy premier is "aiding and abetting" Doug Ford's "dangerous" plan to send sexual education back into the closet, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says.

Horwath made the charge in question period Tuesday where she took aim at Christine Elliott, who also serves as the province's health minister. Elliott fielded inquiries on behalf of an absent Premier Doug Ford, who earlier unveiled his buck-a-beer plan.

The NDP leader touted a petition signed by nearly 1,800 health-care workers, including groups such as the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario, urging the government to keep the sex-ed curriculum that was revamped in 2015 in place once school starts in September.

The Progressive Conservative government has directed schools to teach a lesson plan last updated in 1998 until a new curriculum can be drafted after public consultations. The 1998 version does not include topics such as same-sex relationships, gender identity, and online safety, leading to charges that Ontario is turning back the clock.

Horwath pressed Elliott to stop listening to "radical social conservatives," and instead listen to the doctors, nurses and professionals who are concerned the changes will put children at risk. The minister said PCs want to hear from everyone, including parents, to make sure "we get it right."

Elliott also suggested there has been too much focus on sex ed and not enough on math scores, a remark that drew a standing ovation from the Tory bench.

Watch the exchange in the video below:

While Ford and Education Minister Lisa Thompson have borne the brunt of criticism for the controversial policy, which PCs promised on the campaign trail, Horwath also pounced on the deputy premier's recent comments on the issue.

Responding to reporters' questions late last month, Elliott said that while teachers should answer questions about topics not covered in the old sex-ed curriculum, those conversations should happen in private.

"The requirement is that the curriculum be followed," she said. "But of course there's lots of student questions that come to teachers every day. Of course, a teacher is able to have a private discussion with a student to answer the questions."

Union leaders from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation and Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said such actions would put educators in a difficult and possibly jeopardous situations. ETFO president Sam Hammond called Elliott's advice "unbelievable."

"You'd think this deputy premier would want to install closets in every classroom to have these discussions," Horwath said in question period.

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"How can this deputy premier honestly suggest that same-sex families, gender identity and consent are dirty little secrets that should be sent back into the closet?"

Elliott suggested her words were being mischaracterized.

"If a student has a question and they don't have anyone else to ask, and that happens very often, is there anything wrong with them asking a teacher about that so the teacher can help them get the help they need?" Elliott asked. "No, there is not.

"And I think it is absolutely fine for a student to ask a teacher a question. There's nothing wrong with that."

Doctor urges province to stop plan

At a press conference earlier in the day, Guelph-based family physician Dr. Andrea Chittle, representing the health-care workers who signed the petition, said it is "imperative" that Ontario kids learn about consent, inclusivity and safety in September.

"The human development and sexual health components of the 2015 curriculum are critically important for informed decision-making related to health behaviours and relationships," she said.

With files from The Canadian Press