Gaye Meloche, of Timsdale Estates, greets Conservative MPP Sam Oosterhoff as he campaigns for votes. DON RICKERS

Incumbent Niagara West MPP out sharing the Doug Ford vision

At present, Doug Ford and the provincial Conservatives are firmly in the driver’s seat.

So say the pollsters, who are forecasting another Tory majority government in Ontario, with the NDP and Liberals jockeying for second place in the impending June 2 election. Numerous polls have shown the Tories in the lead, according to a poll aggregator created for the Toronto Star by Vox Pop Labs.

Of course, things can change quickly in politics, and although Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff feels confident going into his third run at office, that doesn’t translate into complacency on his part. He was on the hustings last Monday in Fonthill, and met with the Voice to discuss his key issues.

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“We’re not taking anything for granted,” said Oosterhoff. “I think the families, workers, seniors, and job creators of this riding deserve the best, and that’s something over the past five years I’ve really tried to deliver. Working with Doug Ford, we’re going to get the job done. We’re the party that’s cut license plate fees, the party that’s talking about cutting the gas tax, and we’re the only party fighting the carbon tax. When I meet with people, the cost of living issue is priority one for them, and we’re the only party that’s being a voice for those families.”

In the 2018 election, the PCs won a majority with 76 seats, including Niagara West, which is considered by political pundits as one of the safest Conservative ridings in the province.

Oosterhoff’s terms of office have not been without controversy.

In May of 2019, Oosterhoff, who is the parliamentary assistant to the minister of education, spoke at an anti-abortion rally at Queen’s Park, pledging to make abortion “unthinkable in our lifetime,” which ignited debate over where the Ontario government stands. NDP leader Andrea Horvath said that she was “horrified that Doug Ford continues to refuse to denounce his MPPs’ dangerous, anti-choice and anti-women position.”

Recent Liberal party online advertisements have featured a clip of Oosterhoff’s remarks at the rally, suggesting an alignment of Tory policy with the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked posture on overturning Roe vs. Wade.

Doug Ford defended Oosterhoff, responding to critics that “The Ontario PC Party is a big tent. We welcome members from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs.”

Oosterhoff said that the issue was a red herring.

“If the Liberals want to try to use an American federal court decision to distract the Ontario electorate from the Liberal’s record of 15 years of pushing manufacturing jobs out of the province, failing to build long-term care homes, and skyrocketing hydro rates, that’s up to them,” said the MPP.

In June of 2020, Oosterhoff’s riding staff called the police after a group of retirees and seniors clutching books showed up to stage a “read in” over provincial library cuts.

He faced more criticism in October of the same year, appearing in a photo, unmasked, with a group of 40 guests in a banquet hall, who also were maskless, contrary to pandemic health directives. He later apologized for not masking-up.

Oosterhoff admits that he is a strong social conservative, having been weaned on the doctrines of the Canadian Reformed Church in West Niagara, and benefiting from its support in his first two runs at elected office. He was first elected as an MPP in the 2016 by-election, defeating highly favoured former MP and then-president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, Rick Dykstra, thanks to a grassroots effort mobilized by Oosterhoff’s church community.

I’ve always been clear about my stance on the importance of protecting the unborn, and I’ve always been upfront with people in my community about that

“I’ve always been clear about my stance on the importance of protecting the unborn, and I’ve always been upfront with people in my community about that,” said Oosterhoff. “And they’ve sent me back to Queens Park, first in 2016, and then in 2018. The reality is that in this election, what I’m hearing from people is that their top concerns are the cost of living for their families, the importance of building-up community infrastructure, and making sure that all have access to critical healthcare services. Those are the things that I’m really fighting for.”

In the 2018 election, Oosterhoff took 53 percent of the popular vote, beating the NDP candidate by some 10,000 votes, and the Liberal candidate by almost 20,000 votes.

Two seasoned political veterans are competing for the local seat this time around, with controversial former Pelham Mayor David Augustyn carrying the NDP banner, and former West Lincoln Mayor Doug Joyner stepping up for the Liberals.

“The NDP and the Liberals like to talk a big game, to strike committees, to argue and debate. But at the end of the day, Doug [Ford] is the one who’s going to get it done,” said Oosterhoff.

The pollsters have confirmed that the cost of living has become the top Ontario election issue, given skyrocketing prices for food, fuel, and shelter. Bur Oosterhoff notes other key issues, such as healthcare.

“The new West Lincoln Memorial Hospital is a priority for local folks in Niagara West, and other projects in the region include the expansion at the Hotel Dieu Shaver hospital, and of course the new South Niagara hospital in Niagara Falls,” said Oosterhoff. “We have an aging population that needs to be supported, and so we’ve allocated a billion dollars in the budget towards expanding home care, so that they can age in place with dignity. That’s a huge priority.”

High speed internet in rural areas has also been on the PC must-do list, said Oosterhoff.

We’ve done a lot of work getting high-speed internet into communities in West Niagara, from Fenwick to Canborough and Attercliffe

“We’ve done a lot of work getting high-speed internet into communities in West Niagara, from Fenwick to Canborough and Attercliffe, out towards Kimbo and Grassie, to a lot of these smaller centres that had poor connectivity. Our government is setting aside funding to have every house in the province connected by 2025.”

Oosterhoff stressed a focus on education by the Ford government.

“We have the new West Niagara high school in the works, a new Catholic school coming to Beamsville, and a new joint Catholic-public school in Wainfleet. So education is a huge priority. With more young families moving to the region, we need a world-class education system to support them.”

Asked about his perceived positive relationship with Premier Doug Ford, Oosterhoff responded, “Doug has a good rapport with everybody. He’s very down-to-earth. I’m a born and raised farm kid, so my views are down-to-earth, common sense, get things done. My approach to politics is the same as the Premier’s. We’ve been able to work really well on a number of different local projects, like the new Canada Games Centre that just opened. We delivered $41 million for that facility. Doug is someone who doesn’t make excuses, he just gets to work and gets it done. And that’s the approach I try to take in Niagara West.”

His election in 2016 curtailed Oosterhoff’s full-time student status, but he has been persevering towards a degree, with a concentration in politics and economics.

“I transferred to McMaster from Brock, simply because of the proximity to Queen’s Park in Toronto,” he said. “I’ve been trying to take a course each semester, but I still have a couple more years to go. I’m plugging away at it, bit by bit. I want to make sure that I get that qualification.”

Oosterhoff said that his wife, Keri, has been a rock of support in his life as a politician.

“My wife is an absolute champion,” he said, “just the most intelligent and beautiful woman ever. Our son, Sullivan, is 15 months old now, and we miss each other because I’m on the campaign trail a lot, but good things come to those who work, and wait, and pray. At least that’s my attitude, so I’m going to keep my nose to the grindstone and keep delivering.”

 

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