Ont. Conservatives downplay controversy about teaching creationism
TORONTO (CP) Burned by his rekindling of the emotionally charged battle between creationism and evolution, Ontario's Progressive Conservative leader anxiously tried to deflect some of the attention Thursday as he urged voters not to judge him solely on the party's promise to fund faith-based schools.
John Tory, poised to hit the provincial campaign trail for the first time Monday, said he believes in evolution and admitted he needs to "choose his words carefully" when talking about such a controversial issue on the eve of an election.
"In the course of an election campaign, you have to have an open, honest discussion about these kinds of issues and you always have to choose your language with precision," Tory said when asked if he regretted musing about teaching creationism in public religious schools.
"I understand that this issue is controversial . . . But it doesn't mean that you shouldn't discuss it or try to sweep it under the carpet."
Voters in Ontario go the polls Oct. 10.
By wading head-first into the highly charged issue of creationism in class, Tory mystified political observers and became the latest in a line of politicians to learn the hard way how Canadians react when the thorny issue of religion rears its head during election season.
Former federal Conservative leader Stockwell Day, a devout fundamentalist Christian, was excoriated during the 2000 election campaign for stating his belief that dinosaurs and people walked the earth together.
It made for a Liberal field day. One strategist brandished a Barney doll as he declared, "This was the only dinosaur ever to be on Earth with humans."
The issue of funding religious schools is contentious enough without mentioning "creationism," said David Docherty, dean of arts at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.
That stirs up fears Ontario is moving toward the American model, where "creationism is going to get equal time with evolution," he said.
If Tory was trying to differentiate himself from McGuinty, "he's chosen an unwise way to do it," Docherty said.