A homeschooled teenager was sworn in Wednesday as the youngest-ever member of the Ontario legislature, but his socially conservative views threaten to make him the Progressive Conservatives’ problem child.
Sam Oosterhoff was elected Nov. 17 in a byelection in Niagara West-Glanbrook, previously held by former party leader Tim Hudak, after securing the nomination by beating out the party president.
Party Leader Patrick Brown has been battling factions of party supporters, other members of his caucus and even his own previously stated positions on social issues to brand the Tories as modern, inclusive and socially progressive.
Brown publicly split with social conservative elements of the party after he flip-flopped on a pledge to repeal the Liberal government’s updated sex-education curriculum. He expressed displeasure that caucus member Monte McNaughton continues to court sex-ed opponents, has a caucus member who doesn’t believe in evolution, and had to send another member for sensitivity training after he made mysogynistic “jokes.”
Oosterhoff throws another wrench into Brown’s progressive push, as he has declared he is “100 per cent pro life,” campaigned against the sex-ed curriculum, and opposes a new law that gives more rights to same-sex parents.
Oosterhoff could have been sworn in Monday — as a Liberal elected in Ottawa-Vanier the same day was — but he said he delayed it so family members, including a brother whose wife just gave birth, could attend.
He denied that he deliberately scheduled it to avoid the vote Tuesday on the equal parentage bill that he and other social conservatives opposed because it replaces the words “mother” and “father” with “parent.”
“I wasn’t sworn in, that’s pretty simple,” he said when asked why he didn’t vote on it.
A vote in favour of the bill would have angered his social conservative supporters, but since Brown had said he expected all of his caucus to vote for the bill, a vote against it would publicly signalled division in the party.
Oosterhoff said on his way to the swearing in that he is “absolutely not” a homophobe, but he refused to say if he believes homosexuality is a sin.
“I believe we need to treat everyone with dignity and respect,” he said in response.
“I’m very excited to be sworn in today, to move forward and to make sure that I’m representing all constituents, listening to all their concerns and their priorities.”
When asked what he thinks of Premier Kathleen Wynne — who is gay — he appeared to choose his words carefully, pausing frequently.
“I think Premier Wynne is worthy of respect as the premier,” he said. “I have great concerns with the directions of many of her policies.”
Oosterhoff, who was born in the Niagara region and homeschooled, took a leave from first-year studies at Brock University for his campaign. On his first day at the legislature, in downtown Toronto, Oosterhoff didn’t sound particularly enamoured with his new surroundings.
“I must admit I like the constituency a lot more than Toronto,” he said. “I like listening to my neighbours and talking with my neighbours and making sure that they understand they have their voice heard and Toronto is a whole different scene.”