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Mr. Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook

Patrick Brown Doubles Down

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Patrick Brown Doubles Down December 15, 2016  |  By Raymond J. de Souza
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The new MPP for the Ontario riding of Niagara-West Glanbook is Sam Oosterhoff, who won the safe Progressive Conservative riding after the resignation of former party leader Tim Hudak.

Oosterhoff is 19-years-old. Someone who will probably not help him celebrate his 20th birthday is Michael Coren, erstwhile conservative Catholic, now Anglican convert, and new columnist for the United Church Observer among other publications. The author of Why Catholics Are Right, and former staple of the pro-life speaking circuit, currently finds Oosterhoff’s socially conservative beliefs much too, don’t you know, divisive.

“Social conservatives in Ontario PC party ranks are rejoicing,” Coren tells readers of NOW Toronto, who could not be otherwise expected to guess. “To be sure, Oosterhoff's nomination win is part of a greater, deeper division in the Ontario PC party between the mainstream and the Christian right. Oosterhoff is himself firmly entrenched in the latter. A member of the Spring Creek Canadian Reformed Church in Vineland, he embraces a strict Calvinist theology that is far to the right of most other Reformed Christians in Canada. That’s his absolute right, of course, but his refusal to work on Sundays could be an issue, as could his resolute stance against abortion for any reason and vehement opposition to the new sex ed curriculum, which has already brought him into direct conflict with his leader.”

One looks forward to the United Church Observer column where Coren tells his readers that they embrace a theology far to the left of most other mainline Protestants in Canada.

Coren is right about a division in the Ontario PC party, however. It is one precipitated by the leader, Patrick Brown, who tries to be all things to all people, but not in a St. Paul kind of way.

Brown is a young man in a hurry, much older than Oosterhoff but still shy of 40. An MP in the Harper government, he ran for the PC leadership in Ontario as an outsider against the party establishment. He aggressively courted social conservative voters, boasting of his socially conservative record in the House of Commons, and defeated the establishment candidate, Christine Elliott, long time MPP and widow of Jim Flaherty. A young, socially conservative outsider taking on the party establishment? Shouldn’t Brown have loved Oosterhoff?

The old Patrick Brown of 2015 would have. But not now. Why? Because it’s 2016. After his election as leader, Brown rather rudely bid farewell to the social conservatives, telling them he would like their votes but otherwise they should shut up.

Now claiming to want to be “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” Brown magnanimously allows that PC candidates are entitled to “private religious views” but will be expected to toe the liberal – Liberal? – line, depending on Brown’s position at the time.

Building a broad conservative party that has room for social conservatives is not easy, though Stephen Harper did it without conceding to them much of substance. They had a place in the Harper ranks, a limited influence, and respect. Brown has neither the reading of history, nor the intellect, of Harper, so he flounders around when it comes to strategy and policy, a man clearly in over his head. He has nothing of Harper’s calculating judgment and steadiness. He is, though, boldly against higher electricity prices.

So while it was awkward to see Brown embarrass himself, there was something satisfying in watching a politician so unprincipled and duplicitous get his hat handed to him by Oosterhoff. Brown had slotted in former MP Rick Dykstra for the party nomination, his friend from Ottawa days whom he had installed as president of the PC Party of Ontario.

Oosterhoff hustled, sold memberships amongst his family, friends and church community, and beat the party president and two others – including a former regional councillor – in an old-fashioned contested nomination meeting. The humiliation for Brown and Dykstra was completed by their having to campaign for the 19-year-old in the subsequent by-election, which he won handily.

After Oosterhoff, Brown has doubled down on his efforts to frustrate any similar outbreaks of party democracy, instructing party bureaucrats to disqualify other socially conservative candidates from contesting nominations. Everyone expects that after 15 years of Liberal misrule in Ontario, Brown should have an easy time winning the next election. The real question is whether it will make any difference. After his shameless shifting on social issues, no one should expect that Patrick Brown has any fixed positions at all. Even on electricity prices.

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