The Progressive Conservatives have held the riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook in one of two byelections tonight, electing a 19-year-old student as the youngest ever member of the Ontario legislature.
Sam Oosterhoff, a social conservative who lives with his parents, easily held onto the Niagara riding that had been represented for the past 21 years by former Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak.
Oosterhoff led from the start, and with over 96 per cent of polls reporting had garnered more than 53 per cent of the vote, compared with 25 per cent for New Democrat Mike Thomas.
“Today we sent a very strong message to Premier (Kathleen) Wynne: people are fed up. People have had enough of soaring hydro rates. People have had enough of cuts to health care,” Oosterhoff said to cheering supporters at his campaign celebration in Grimbsy.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said instead of campaigning on their record, the Liberals attacked Oosterhoff for his social conservative beliefs.
“The Liberals resorted to a smear campaign on Sam, but Sam focused on jobs. Sam focused on how we’re going to get Ontario back on its feet,” said Brown.
Brown had been accused of muzzling Oosterhoff after the home-schooled social conservative who lives with his parents won the party’s nomination, in part by courting people opposed to the 2015 update to Ontario’s sex ed curriculum.
Brown himself had flip-flopped on the sex ed issue in a September byelection in Toronto’s Scarborough-Rouge River riding, eventually saying he backs the curriculum changes. And he said Oosterhoff now supports the party’s position.
But Oosterhoff repeatedly refused to say if he would try to repeal the sex-ed update if the Conservatives win the 2018 general election.
He described himself as “100 per cent pro life,” but wouldn’t say if he’d vote with the Conservatives to support a Liberal bill that would update the definition of families to recognize the rights of same-sex couples by using the word parent in place of father or mother.
“We have a long-standing tradition within the PC party of allowing members to vote their conscience,” he said in a recent interview.
However, Brown said that while he likes some free votes, “I have asked my caucus to support the direction I’m taking as a party.”
Oosterhoff said his age was not an issue when he knocked on doors during the campaign, but he balked at questions about his home-schooling experience, and got defensive when pressed for details.
“You know what, the people who accepted my application and gave me big scholarships at Brock (University) seemed to like it okay,” he said.
When asked how much he got in scholarships, the teen responded: “That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
In tonight’s other byelection, Liberal Nathalie Des Rosier held on to the Liberal stronghold of Ottawa-Vanier, fending off a challenge from a former Ontario ombudsman.
With over 80 per cent of polls reporting, Des Rosier had over 48 per cent of the vote, compared with 28 per cent for Progressive Conservative Andre Marin.
Patrick Brown had called Ottawa-Vanier the safest Liberal seat in the province and hoped to embarrass Premier Kathleen Wynne by coming within 10 percentage points of the Liberals, but it was not to be.
At Des Rosiers’ victory party, Wynne said the new MPP will fight at the legislature for the values she has fought for her whole career, including a “fair and inclusive society.”
When asked if she is worried Oosterhoff will work against those values, Wynne was coy.
“All I can do as a politician, as a human being, is to stand up for what I believe in and gather people around me who share the same values and we are working in our party for that inclusive society,” she said.