Oosterhoff's extreme anti-choice views should be a 'bridge too far' in politics

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Sam Oosterhoff. Image credit: Sam Oosterhoff/Facebook

Sam Oosterhoff should be expelled from Ontario Premier Doug Ford's caucus because he opposes key human rights.

Oosterhoff is an elected member of provincial parliament (Niagara West), serves in the Ontario Progressive Conservative government as parliamentary assistant for the minister of education, and is vocally "pro-life." You may have heard about his most recent media scandal -- speaking at an anti-choice event even though one of the organizing groups had compared abortion to the Holocaust.

This is not an isolated occurrence. Oosterhoff has a long record as a far-right fundamentalist Christian who opposes Charter rights for women and gender minorities.

How did he get elected in the first place, and why is he still there? Let's start by reviewing Oosterhoff's troublesome history.

October-November 2016

  • Nineteen-year-old Oosterhoff won the nomination in the Progressive Conservative riding of Niagara West-Glanbrook because the anti-choice groups Campaign Life Coalition and Right Now subverted the nomination process. He beat out favoured nominee Rick Dykstra, the PC president and a former MP.
  • He "disappeared" during the byelection campaign, hardly speaking to anyone, and was tight-lipped with reporters. Political analyst Robert Fisher figured he was told to be quiet because of his extreme social conservative views.
  • After his election, he publicly opposed Bill 28 (the "All Families are Equal Act," which gives protections to LGBTQ2SI+ parents) on the grounds that it disrespects mothers and fathers by using gender-neutral terms.

2018

  • In May, he ran away from his constituents and pro-choice protesters, refusing to talk to them or answer questions on his abortion stance, after hosting a community coffee event with constituents in Grimsby.
  • In December, he shared a Toronto stage with Premier Doug Ford and religious extremist Charles McVety, who is virulently anti-gay and has attacked same-sex marriage as part of the "militant homosexual agenda."

2019

  • He pledged at the annual March for Life rally at Queen's Park in Toronto in May, "to fight to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime," resulting in an avalanche of outrage.
  • After that rally, he told the media: "To quote Dr. Seuss, 'A person's a person no matter how small.'" But before his death in 1991, Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) threatened to sue an anti-abortion group for using that line. His widow said she doesn't like people to "hijack Dr. Seuss characters or material to front their own points of view."
  • He was in an October photo-op with all-male members of Ontario Craft Brewers (OCB), which caused public controversy because it raised the question: why was the OCB consorting with an extremist anti-choice homophobe? The OCB and several member groups apologized, with some expressing their support for women's rights and the LGBTQ2SI+ community.

2020

2021

  • He headlined a March 17 event, "Gen Z: Challenging Abortion in Politics," co-organized by a group, the National Campus Life Network, that compared abortion to the Holocaust.

Allow me to share a few crowd-gathered thoughts about this latest event. It was an echo chamber for anti-choice doctrine. A link to the event recording by Rob Gill titles "An Anti-Choice, Hateful Evening with MPP Sam Oosterhoff." (It requires you to download an app.) Questions were screened and selected beforehand, so a submitted question from pro-choice attendee Katie Dean was not answered. And nobody could unmute their mic.

Another pro-choice attendee complained to the organizers:

"I did not hear anything whatsoever that would want to make me to cross over to your side. Why were not any of the difficult questions asked? Why did it just appear to be a pep talk for the College kids. Shameless."

Ontario MPPs Jill Andrew and Marit Stiles -- NDP women's issues critic and education critic respectively -- released a statement before the event, calling out Oosterhoff for abusing his office to attack a woman's right to choose, and demanding that Ford fire him from his post as parliamentary assistant for education.

Back in 2019, when Oosterhoff made his infamous "unthinkable" pledge (and misappropriated Dr. Seuss), NDP Leader Andrea Horwath condemned his comments, saying: "We are horrified that Doug Ford continues to refuse to denounce his MPP's dangerous, anti-choice and anti-women position."

Yet Ford continues to make excuses for Oosterhoff. He spoke with Oosterhoff privately before the March 17 event but refused to divulge their conversation. Ford did disavow Holocaust analogies but claimed that Oosterhoff did not represent the Ontario PCs or the government at the event. But that gave Oosterhoff permission to attend the event, to which he was invited as keynote speaker only because he's an Ontario MPP.

NDP women's critic Jill Andrew stood up in question period on March 23 to demand why the premier had allowed Oosterhoff to headline an anti-choice event. In response, House Leader Paul Calandra was very "troubled" that Andrew would expect the premier to tell his MPPs what they can and cannot do.

So there's been no apology, and no dismissal of Oosterhoff from his privileged parliamentary position or from caucus. This confirms that Ford and his Progressive Conservative party are happy to coddle MPPs who oppose the human rights of women and gender minorities. Jill Andrew explains why in a Facebook post:

"FACT: Many other PC MPPs have been 'cast out of the belly of the whale!' They've been kicked out of the caucus. But I guess women and people's right to choose isn't important enough of an issue for Sam Oosterhoff to face any consequences from Ford. You see, the Ford government are AFRAID of their social conservative base! It's a whole lot of HATE there (sexism, racism, homophobia etc propping up this conservative caucus.) Disgusting hypocrisy."

Five PC MPPs have been removed from Ford's caucus or from cabinet for bad behaviour -- but none for being sexist, racist, or homophobic. (See Roman Baber, Rod Phillips, Belinda Karahalios, Randy Hillier, and Jim Wilson.) Still, it's likely that if Oosterhoff was doing or saying racist things, he'd be gone by now.

Overt racism is a bridge too far for the PC party. Even homophobia must be kept fairly muted. Yet open misogyny is perfectly acceptable. Oosterhoff can be out, loud, and proud when it comes to declaring that women must be subservient to fetuses.

Oosterhoff should resign from his parliamentary position and from caucus but of course he won't. Ford has shown that Oosterhoff’s brand of misogyny is welcome in the party -- even necessary to keep the base happy.

But wait… who is the "base"? Recall that Oosterhoff's nomination for the 2016 byelection was engineered by anti-choice groups, and his Niagara West riding is a safe Conservative seat.

Do most Oosterhoff voters really agree with his views against abortion and same-sex marriage? Wouldn't they just as easily vote for a more moderate Conservative candidate? After all, their MPP's job is to work constructively with a wide range of constituents and issues -- but people can't even take their picture with Oosterhoff for fear of negative media exposure. He's a liability to the party and to his constituents.

It's time for Doug Ford to add extreme anti-choice views as a "bridge too far" when it comes to MPPs in his caucus. Please, give Sam the ooster!

Joyce Arthur is the founder and executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, a national pro-choice group in Canada.

Image credit: Sam Oosterhoff/Facebook

Editor's note, March 25: A previous version of this column incorrectly credited Katie Dean with recording the event "Gen Z: Challenging Abortion in Politics." The event was in fact recorded by Rob Gill. The article has been corrected.

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