A 19-year-old university student who opposes abortion and appears to believe homosexuality is a sin has been elected the youngest MPP in Ontario history.
Progressive Conservative Sam Oosterhoff, a political-science major at Brock University, stormed to victory in a by-election in Niagara West-Glanbrook, a safe Tory seat.
With 96 per cent of polls reporting, he took 54 per cent of the vote to 25 per cent for the NDP’s Mike Thomas and 15 per cent for Liberal Vicky Ringuette.
The Liberals, meanwhile, held on to Ottawa-Vanier, beating back a challenge from colourful and controversial former ombudsman André Marin, who ran for the Tories. With most polls reporting, civil-liberties lawyer Nathalie Des Rosiers held a lead of 49 per cent to 30 per cent for Mr. Marin and 15 per cent for the NDP’s Claude Bisson.
The result allowed Premier Kathleen Wynne to breathe a sigh of relief: A loss in the Liberals’ Ottawa bastion would have further stoked fears in the party over her electability amid cratering poll numbers and voter anger with electricity prices, the privatization of Hydro One and a string of ethics scandals.
The visibly ecstatic Premier took the stage at Ms. Des Rosiers’s victory party, at a Knights of Columbus branch in Vanier, around 10:20 p.m.
“We have Nathalie Des Rosiers coming to Queen’s Park to fight for all the things she’s been fighting for her whole career,” Ms. Wynne said to roars of approval from the hall, which included nearly the entire Liberal caucus and a small army of Queen’s Park staffers. “Equality for women, child care, a fair and inclusive society.”
In a subsequent scrum, Ms. Wynne laughed when asked if the victory had saved her premiership.
“I made a commitment in 2013 to implement a plan. We’re implementing that plan,” she said.
Mr. Oosterhoff’s victory in Niagara, meanwhile, is a mixed blessing for PC Leader Patrick Brown, who will now have to contend with his newest MPP’s extreme views in caucus.
“Tonight, we have made history,” said Mr. Brown. “We have elected the youngest serving MPP in Ontario history, and we couldn’t be more proud.”
“The Liberals resorted to a smear campaign against Sam. And Sam focused on Hydro, Sam focused on jobs, Sam focused on getting Ontario back on its feet.”
In his victory speech, Mr. Oosterhoff highlighted the economy and steered clear of the social issues that divide him from his party’s new direction.
“Today we sent a very strong message to Premier Wynne,” he said. “People have had enough of soaring Hydro rates.”
In a scrum with reporters, however, Mr. Oosterhoff declined to say whether he believes homosexuality is a sin, as he has suggested in the past. Hugging his parents, he said, “I believe we need to treat everybody with dignity and respect.”
Mr. Oosterhoff had rallied conservatives who felt betrayed by Mr. Brown’s tack to the left on social issues. “Personally, I think he over-corrected a bit in that direction,” said Jake Sinke, chair of the socially conservative lobby group Canada Family Action Niagara, in the hotel ballroom where Mr. Oosterhoff’s victory party was being held. “I think there is quite a number that thinks he over-corrected a bit.”
Mr. Oosterhoff became the Tory candidate by upsetting former MP Rick Dykstra, the PC party president, in a nomination battle. He got the support of evangelical Christians by opposing the Liberals’ sexual-education curriculum and a bill that would make it easier for same-sex couples to have children.
PC social conservatives were angered by Mr. Brown’s repeated flip-flops on sex-ed and same-sex marriage. Mr. Brown changed his position on sex-ed at least three times before finally pledging support for the new curriculum this fall.
Mr. Oosterhoff’s extremism will be hard to square with Mr. Brown’s attempt to rebrand the Tories as a “modern,” centrist party.
At an all-candidates’ debate earlier this month, Mr. Oosterhoff declared himself “100-per-cent pro-life.”
And in a Facebook post from last year, Mr. Oosterhoff linked to a homophobic blog post on www.desiringgod.org. He quoted a section of the post on his page, describing homosexuality as a “sin” and decrying that it is “seen as a good thing, as a new hallmark of progress.”
The posting was not visible on Mr. Oosterhoff’s Facebook page Thursday, but a screen grab of it was circulated online by the Broadbent Institute, a left-wing think tank.
Mr. Oosterhoff’s victory breaks the age record set by Reid Scott, who was elected an MPP for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation in 1948 at age 21.
Niagara West-Glanbrook, a largely rural riding in Ontario’s wine country, has been in Tory hands since its creation in 2007. It became vacant when former leader Tim Hudak quit the legislature earlier this year.
In Ottawa-Vanier, meanwhile, the Tories mounted an unusually vigorous campaign for a seat they have not won in fifty years.
The by-election was something of a grudge match for Mr. Marin.
In his decade as ombudsman, he earned the Liberals’ ire with his hard-hitting investigations into everything from Hydro One billing problems to mass arrests at the 2010 G20 protests.
His shoot-from-the-lip communications style was a magnet for the media that sometimes overshadowed his work. As his term wound down last year, for instance, he exhorted his followers to flame the Liberals on Twitter so they would give him another five years on the job.
Ms. Wynne’s cabinet then used an executive order to get him out of office, and subsequently got the other parties in the legislature to agree to give the job to the much milder Paul Dubé.
Even some fellow Tories tired of Mr. Marin’s antics, including his penchant for frequently tweeting photos of himself at the gym and dubbing his followers #MarinArmy. When the Liberals tried to compare Mr. Marin with U.S. president-elect Donald Trump during the by-election, PC strategist Mark Towhey joked on Twitter: “Aside from unbridled narcissism, what could they possibly share? I’ve never seen a bare-chested selfie of Donald Trump kissing his dogs.”
Despite his outsize personality, Mr. Marin is a political moderate who fits with Mr. Brown’s attempted facelift for the party, and it is likely he will stick around.
Ms. Des Rosiers, for her part, is best known for her previous work with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, where she famously exposed ex-premier Dalton McGuinty’s secret move to suspend protesters’ rights ahead of the G20 summit.
The Ottawa riding, which encompasses working-class Vanier, tony Rockcliffe Park and the Byward, became vacant with the resignation of former attorney-general Madeleine Meilleur ahead of a cabinet shuffle this summer.
ADRIAN MORROW AND ERIC ANDREW-GEE
OTTAWA and GRIMSBY, ONT. — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 11:06AM EST
Last updated Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 11:26PM EST