In most circumstances, the case of a 19-year-old upstart outsmarting and outworking a major party establishment to win a highly sought-after nomination would be an inspiring story of youthful gumption and democracy in action.
But in the case of Sam Oosterhoff, the newly minted Progressive Conservative candidate for Niagara West-Glanbrook in the upcoming Nov 17 byelection, it’s mounting evidence of party leader Patrick Brown’s inability to actually lead the PCs away from divisive stances on social issues that could cost them the next election. Worse, it puts the LGBT community at risk of rolling back from the progress we’ve fought for over the last decade.
Oosterhoff, a first-year political science student at Brock University who recently gained the right to purchase alcohol in Ontario, secured the nomination by aggressively courting the extremely religious community in the riding, beating out party leader Patrick Brown’s favourite, Rick Dykstra. If Oosterhoff wins, he will become the youngest MPP in Ontario’s history.
The reportedly homeschooled youngster campaigned on his support for “parents as primary educators” — code for opposition to the new sex-ed curriculum.
He also boasted about being a “principled voice for family values.” His Facebook page called on supporters to oppose Bill 28, the new law that would make it easier for queer families who use surrogates to register their children’s births.
“Bill  is being pushed through without consultation, and without due consideration,” he wrote.
Oosterhoff’s insurgent victory comes at a particularly inconvenient time for Brown. The leader lost significant political capital after the humiliating admission that anti-sex ed campaign materials in last month’s Scarborough by-election went out without his approval, and after he wrote a lengthy op-ed in the Toronto Star, retracting his previous opposition to the new sex-ed program in August 2016.
The issue was clouded further when it emerged that he’d promised evangelical groups that he would scrap the sex-ed curriculum if elected and told them to disregard contradictory statements he’d made to the media.
Having a high-profile candidate loudly repudiate Brown’s official position on sex ed certainly won’t help his case.
Should Oosterhoff win the byelection — as he is expected to, given the riding’s history as a PC stronghold — he will be a gift to the Wynne Liberals, who’ll be able to use him as the poster child for the knuckle-dragging boogeymen they’ve always labelled the PCs as. (I expect the Ontario New Democrats will greet him with the same indifferent shrug that has defined the party’s electoral strategy under Andrea Horwath, but Cheri DiNovo might get a headline or two out of him.)
Handing the Liberals a deeply polarizing and losing social issue to run against is the same strategy that failed for the PCs in the last three elections. Since John Tory, each new PC leader has sworn up and down that they’re going to focus on the economy and keep the social conservatives quiet, but they just can’t help themselves.
The homophobes and Bible thumpers are baked into the PCs’ DNA. They have no alternative party to vote for that will even consider their causes. All the same, the PCs want neither to alienate them, nor to do the hard work of leading them into becoming more tolerant of queer Ontarians.
Ontarians should remember their cowardice — and Patrick Brown’s double-dealing — when it comes time to vote.