From left, Pelham Town Councillor Bob Hildebrandt and Mayor Marvin Junkin greet MPP Sam Oosterhoff, along with Niagara Regional Councillor Diana Huson, at Oosterhoff's annual New Year's Levee. Right, some 40 residents turned out for the event, held at the Legion hall in Fonthill. VOICE PHOTO

Annual event also draws demonstrators

The Legion parking lot in Fonthill was near capacity on Saturday afternoon, as Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff welcomed visitors to his fourth annual New Year’s Levee. The turnout was a far cry from the six or seven in attendance at his first levee in 2017, according to Dr. Jim Jeffs, a longstanding Oosterhoff supporter, who was all smiles as some 40 or so attendees in the room knocked back hot chocolate and nibbled on cookies.

Outside,meanwhile, about a dozen protesters—some in costume— stood on the sidewalk along Highway 20, many holding signs encouraging passing motorists to honk if they supported abortion rights.

Decked-out in her Handmaid costume, Jennifer Botari joined demonstrators in front of the Legion hall in Fonthill last Saturday, advocating for abortion rights. MPP Sam Oosterhoff, holding his annual New Year’s Levee inside, opposes legalized abortion. VOICE PHOTO

Attempting to make herself heard over what was often a cacophony of obliging drivers beeping away, organizer Jennifer Botari explained that the protest was a joint effort among members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation, the Society of United Professionals, and Handmaids Local 905, an organization that Botari founded last May, in response to Oosterhoff’s widely reported comment that abortion rights should be made “unthinkable in our lifetime.”

“We have 17 locals across the country now,” said Botari, who was dressed like a character from The Handmaid’s Tale, the television series inspired by novelist Margaret Atwood’s vision of a dystopian future, in which a totalitarian society subjugates women as child-bearing slaves.

“We have 2,700 followers on Facebook,” Botari said, nodding acknowledgment at a passing honker.

The horns weren’t audible inside, and Oosterhoff didn’t appear overly interested in engaging with the protestors.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I fully support the right to protest. I think it’s a beautiful thing that we live in a country with freedom of speech, which, of course, also includes my right to be very clear about the fact that I believe in pre-born human rights. I’m pro-life and always said I am.”

Oosterhoff noted that the Niagara District School Board was set to join the latest union protest action this Wednesday, with secondary schools closing for the day.

“Our message on that has been very clear. We’re offering $750 million dollars in a wage compensation increase. We’re moving from 28 students in a class to 25. We’ve moved from four mandatory online learning classes to two. So we’re trying to negotiate in good faith and hope that the unions will reciprocate.”

The MPP cited the cost of living, cannabis, the shortage of long-term care beds, and hydro rates as particular concerns he was hearing about from Pelham constituents.

“If anyone couldn’t make it out today and wants to make sure that their thoughts and perspectives are heard by me, just reach out to my office and we can set up a meeting, or have a call, or read an email.”