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Scott Moe’s conservative government in Saskatchewan is emulating Blaine Higgs’s conservative government in New Brunswick by requiring teachers to obtain the consent of parents before a student may change their name or pronoun at school.

Polls suggest a large majority of Canadians support the measures. The majority is wrong. The politicians are wrong.

Conservative politicians are using confusion over trans issues as a dog whistle for LGBTQ+ intolerance. They should stop.

Well-meaning people can be forgiven for believing that parents, not the state, are best equipped to handle gender dysphoria among youth.

A recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute showed that four out of five Canadians believe parents should be informed if a child wishes to change their gender identity or pronoun at school. (The online survey of 3,016 adults was conducted July 26 to 31; it has a comparable margin of error of plus or minus 1.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

Pierre Poilievre certainly agrees with that majority. At a gathering to celebrate Pakistan Independence Day in Toronto earlier this month, the federal Conservative Leader said Muslim parents should be able to raise their children in their faith. “We want every parent to have the freedom to raise their kids with their own values.”

Of course parents should have that freedom. But they should not have the right to know what their child is telling teachers at school. Why not? Well, consider a young person who is struggling to understand not their gender, but their sexuality.

Let’s say a student tells a teacher, privately, that they think they may be gay. Should the teacher be required to inform the student’s parents? The answer, emphatically, is no.

The student may have talked to their teacher because they are afraid to come out at home. Coming out can be really, really hard. Bullying and depression are serious risks. A youth may choose at first to confide only in close friends. If they need information and adult support, they may seek out a trusted teacher.

That teacher has a responsibility to support the student, perhaps steering them toward counselling, or encouraging them to talk to members of the school’s gay-straight alliance, if there is one. The last thing the teacher should do is tell mom and dad, whose religious faith may condemn homosexuality, or who may simply be intolerant.

The same is true of a young person who may be experiencing gender dysphoria. The essential principle is the same: Children should be supported at school, not made to fear that whatever they confide will be reported back to the home.

New Brunswick’s Child and Youth Advocate put it well earlier this month. “The parent has a right to teach their values to a child,” Kelly Lamrock told reporters. “The parent does not have the right to a state apparatus to force the child to live by their values.”

Egale Canada announced Tuesday that it will take legal action on behalf of the UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity to protect gender-diverse students unless the Saskatchewan government suspends the new policy.

The number of trans people is small. Statistics Canada estimates that only one in 300 Canadians 15 or older identifies as trans or non-binary. Why, then, is the issue consuming so much political oxygen?

The answer could be that a segment of society is not only transphobic but homophobic. Conservatives can’t be seen to be anti-gay because they would lose the votes of the large majority of people who, for example, support same-sex marriage.

But by targeting the issue of trans youth, Conservatives can be seen to be protecting parental rights while also nudge-nudging those who are intolerant toward all issues of sexual and gender identity. Many of those people live in suburbs, and suburban voters elect governments.

It will be instructive to see what, if any, resolutions concerning gender identity pass at the Conservative convention in September.

Mr. Poilievre is campaigning successfully on economic issues. Worries about inflation, interest rates and housing costs are real and are hurting the Liberals.

He and other conservatives should keep their focus on the economy, and leave the kids alone.

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