NEW NIAGARA MPP MAKES PC LEADER SWEAT
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
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.