By-elec­tion win of home-schooled 19-year-old Sam Ooster­hoff, whose be­liefs tack far to the right of con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian­ity, could ham­per PC leader’s at­tempts to court the gay vote

NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By MICHAEL COREN news@now­ | @now­toronto

So­cial con­ser­va­tives in On­tario PC Party ranks are re­joic­ing.

Long con­vinced that pow­er­ful spe­cial in­ter­ests have con­spired to si­lence them, they now have a saviour in 19-year-old Sam Ooster­hoff, the new PC MPP for Ni­a­gara WestGlan­brook in On­tario’s Bi­ble belt.

The univer­sity stu­dent shocked the party es­tab­lish­ment when he de­feated PC party pres­i­dent Rick Dyk­stra, a good friend and cho­sen can­di­date of On­tario PC leader Pa­trick Brown, to win the nom­i­na­tion last month amid blowback over Brown’s flip-flop on the province’s sex-ed cur­ricu­lum. Now he’s won the seat va­cated by for­mer PC leader Tim Hudak in one of two by-elec­tions held Thurs­day, Novem­ber 17. (The gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als held on to Ot­tawa-Vanier.)

While Brown sang the young man’s praises shortly af­ter his vic­tory was an­nounced, de­scrib­ing Ooster­hoff’s win as “im­pres­sive,” the truth is that the last thing the PC leader wants is an­other so­cial con­ser­va­tive in his cau­cus. Those clos­est to Brown con­fide that they’re deeply con­cerned the new boy will not re­main on mes­sage and will cause the party more em­bar­rass­ment over sexed, abor­tion and gay rights as the leader tries to tack a more main­stream po­lit­i­cal course for the PCs. As one Lib­eral in­sider told me, “It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore Sam Ooster­hoff or one of his sup­port­ers says some­thing ex­treme.”

To be sure, Ooster­hoff’s nom­i­na­tion win is part of a greater, deeper divi­sion in the On­tario PC Party be­tween the main­stream and the Christian right.

Ooster­hoff is him­self firmly en­trenched in the lat­ter. A mem­ber of the Spring Creek Cana­dian Re­formed Church in Vineland, he es­pouses a strict Calvin­ist the­ol­ogy that is far to the right of most other Re­formed Chris­tians in Canada. That’s his ab­so­lute right, of course, but his re­fusal to work on Sun­days could be an is­sue, as could his res­o­lute stand against abor­tion for any rea­son and ve­he­ment op­po­si­tion to the new sex-ed cur­ricu­lum, which has al­ready put him in di­rect con­flict with his leader.

Ooster­hoff tried to keep his re­li­gious be­liefs out of the me­dia spot­light be­fore and dur­ing the cam­paign. The few in­ter­views he’s done have been of the painfully soft­ball variety.

He could have been asked, for ex­am­ple, if he agrees with his Church’s teach­ing that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is a mor­tal sin and that those who live in gay re­la­tion­ships are des­tined for the

His re­fusal to work on Sun­days could be an is­sue, as could his res­o­lute stand against abor­tion for any rea­son.

fires of hell. He could also have been asked about a pow­er­ful el­e­ment among his sup­port­ers: the home­school and in­de­pen­dent Christian school move­ment, and the fact that he him­self was home-schooled.

Most par­ents who teach their chil­dren at home are con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians with pol­i­tics to match. That’s a par­tic­u­larly strong move­ment in the Ni­a­gara re­gion, with a pow­er­ful Dutch, Protes­tant flavour. This prac­tice pro­duces po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists and so­cially right-wing politi­cians, and it’s grow­ing as con­ser­va­tive Chris­tians in the On­tario Bi­ble belt and ru­ral and sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties feel in­creas­ingly marginal­ized by schools where mat­ters like mod­ern gen­der the­o­ries and evo­lu­tion are dis­cussed.

This is more than nos­tal­gia. A new gen­er­a­tion is re­ject­ing many of the val­ues that the ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans now ac­cept as self-ev­i­dent. Nor are the schools, es­pe­cially some of the newer ones, con­fined to the Dutch or Protes­tant com­mu­nity.

Right now, young Ooster­hoff is par­rot­ing the party line and in­sists that his elec­tion is about rein­ing in ris­ing hy­dro bills and poor gov­ern­ment man­age­ment. But that’s not go­ing to last: his back­ers didn’t work so hard to pro­pel an­other cen­trist into party pol­i­tics; they want their causes rep­re­sented, and if that doesn’t hap­pen there will be con­se­quences. Ooster­hoff is un­likely to let them down. Af­ter all, he’s con­vinced that the Lord is on his side. What­ever God’s opin­ion, his more right-wing fol­low­ers have no doubts.

A case in point is Dyk­stra’s nom­i­na­tion loss. As a fed­eral MP in the St. Catharines area, he had grown in­creas­ingly dis­tant from the Christian right in his con­stituency. I sat next to him at a Christian gath­er­ing in his rid­ing four years ago af­ter he’d voted against an im­plic­itly an­tiabor­tion bill in Ot­tawa. The hos­til­ity to­ward the man was tan­gi­ble. He lost his seat in the next elec­tion.

Ac­tivists in the largely Ro­man Catholic Cam­paign Life Coali­tion and Charles McVety’s Canada Christian Col­lege are de­mand­ing that at the very least Ooster­hoff work against the new sex-ed pro­gram, even as Brown tries to court the gay vote.

If Ooster­hoff forms an al­liance with so­cially con­ser­va­tive MPPs al­ready in the PC cau­cus like for­mer lead­er­ship con­tender Monte McNaughton, it could give oth­ers in the cau­cus the con­fi­dence to ex­press their vis­ceral, per­sonal dis­ap­proval of Kath­leen Wynne.

For Brown, be­yond the right-wing Christian vote is the emerg­ing Mus­lim elec­torate and some in the con­ser­va­tive wing of the Sikh com­mu­nity who are op­posed to the sex-ed cur­ricu­lum. Both groups have al­ready been courted suc­cess­fully by the so­cial con­ser­va­tive move­ment. Sud­denly, the PC leader has some gen­uine prob­lems on his hands.

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