Ouch.

john-tory-ouch.jpg

Submitted for your approval, one Jim Calder, the blogger behind the Progressive Right. For the past few months, he has been doggedly supporting the Progressive Conservatives and their leader John Tory in the Ontario election, attacking the McGuinty government’s record, and backing up his partisan posts with detailed arguments and statistics. But yesterday, the Tory Tories abruptly lost an ally.

Here’s an excerpt from Jim’s blog, dated September 5, 2007, wherein Jim defends John Tory’s controversial plan to extend public funding to faith-based education institutions:

The conclusion, however, from all this math is that under the Liberals, non-religious public education spending will increase by only 5.6% (from $11.9B to $12.6B), whereas under the PC’s, non-religion public education will increase by 11.4% (from $11.9B to $13.3B).

Under the PC plan, the government commits more to non-religious public education than the current Liberal plan does.

Now, you may argue the math is too quick - it still illustrates a point, however. All of the arguments against extending funding has been predicated on the mistaken belief that the additional $400-$500 million would come from the existing public education budget.

That is simply not true.

Now zip forward to just one day later:

Sorry, John - you lost me when you said:

“It’s still called the theory of evolution,” [John] Tory said. “They teach evolution in the Ontario curriculum, but they also could teach the fact to the children that there are other theories that people have out there that are part of some Christian beliefs.”

That’s not what I signed up for.

It’s called the theory of evolution because that’s what you call a logical or mathematical explanation in science - a theory - not because it’s an opinion or a best guess. A scientific theory can be proven via experiment or disproven via evidence.

That’s why evolution belongs in science class, along with gravity and relativity - similar scientific theories.

Calmer heads may prevail, but at this point - I’m done.

(link)

There is no other word for this but ‘ouch’. I honestly did not think that John Tory’s statement that the teaching of creationism in theology classes was a gaffe (I myself see no problem with this), but to lose such a staunch ally in so sudden a fashion speaks volumes, and may be why Liberal supporters across the blogosphere appear to be breathing a lot easier these days.

I like John Tory. I like him personally, and I like his instincts as a politician, but I think the very instincts that made him such a compelling candidate for mayor of Toronto may be failing him here. John is an affable man, a listener, one who strives to build consensus from a diversity of interests. His mayoralty campaign was remarkable both for the breadth of his support, and his willingness to think outside the box. I liked this because he tried to bring together individuals and groups who were natural enemies on the political stage, and unite them towards a common goal.

That’s my kind of politics. That’s why I firmly believe we need more John Tories in all levels of government. People like McGuinty and Harper can champion large groups or polarize the electorate in order to gain votes; that makes them mere politicians. But to take the disparate groups and convince them to set aside their differences and work towards a common goal — that’s a leader.

But as Tory is finding out, being a leader is harder than being a politician, and building a big tent to cover Ontario requires far more canvas than building one to cover Toronto. Tory has again tried to cobble together a coalition of diverse interests, some of whom are so disparate as to be controversial. Witness Warren Kinsella’s earlier approach of trying to hammer John Tory through the Conservative candidate for Lanark, former radical rural activist Randy Hillier. The message from Warren: how can Tory pull together a party that plays to the interests of rural radicals like Hiller while still being relevant to the voters of Toronto?

I give Tory every credit in the world for trying his best, here, but it seems elements of his big tent are not giving up their traditional enmities, especially over the controversial issue of public funding for faith-based schools. John Tory is already seen as a mushy middle (gasp!) pro-choice candidate that strident social conservatives refuse to vote for. Now, in trying to assuage his remaining social conservative base from the wedge that McGuinty is hammering into the platform, he seems to have alienated his secular friends.

Indeed, Tory was caught between a rock and a hard place. In attacking Tory’s policy on public funding for faith-based schools that agree to teach the provincial curriculum, the McGuinty campaign hoped for one of two responses: (1) this, or (2) something akin to “you cannot teach something that is scientifically unprovable and still call it a science class, and you cannot teach such a science class and still receive funding from the provincial government.” The latter could well have been more damaging. While it would have saved Tory from the media crucifixion he has received, and probably convinced Tories like Jim Calder to stick with the campaign, it could well have caused the party’s social conservative base to stay home, or vote Family Coalition.

We’ve seen this voting pattern afflict the Conservative party before. At the federal level, the fact that the Liberals became the “natural governing party of Canada” throughout the twentieth century turned the Conservativs into the “natural opposition party”, cobbling together interests across the regions of the country that opposed Liberal initiatives. The Conservatives successfully won power when they were able to marry the interests of the Western protest vote with the Quebec protest vote. Unfortunately, Westerners and Quebeckers were protesting for different philosophical reasons. As those differences manifested itself in government, one or the other of the protest wings got alienated (or, in the 1993 electoral disaster, both wings at the same time) and the Conservatives fell from power.

Even though John Tory indisputably shoved his foot in his mouth yesterday, I find the situation unfortunate. As a province and as a country, we are stronger when we work together rather than against each other. And for all of John’s faults, he at least was trying to build some common ground that we could all stand on. But it’s a thankless job being at the top. Young Tory is learning this in spades.


P.S.

Let me just acknowledge again that Tory’s statement — “It’s still called the theory of evolution” — was dead stupid, for all the reasons given. It’s also called gravitational theory and the theory of relativity, but even on this basis, these theories have earned far more weight and deserve to be taught in science class rather than intelligent design, which doesn’t qualify as a theory and is simply a matter of faith.

And I’m saying this as a person who believes in intelligent design. I’ve been putting God at the top of evolution for years, but that’s my own personal religious belief, talking. A belief that cannot be tested scientifically, and really doesn’t need to be in order for me to maintain my faith. And it’s not an article of faith that I feel the need to impose on those around me.

Of course, the theological problems arising from the Theory of Evolution are complicated and worth noting, as I have already done. The thing is: this isn’t my problem, or the education system’s problem, or science’s problem. It’s something the remaining faithful who haven’t learned to accept evolutionary theory into their personal theology will just have to work out themselves.

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