MPP Sam Oosterhoff spoke on youth engagement in politics on the second day of a two-part event organized by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Campus Association (OPCCA) at UTSC. The event, held on November 21, followed an earlier one with MPP Aris Babikian.
As Parliamentary Assistant to Minister of Education Lisa Thompson and the youngest MPP to ever be elected to parliament, Oosterhoff shared his journey into politics and of campaigning as such a young Progressive Conservative candidate. He was elected to the riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook in 2016 at the age of 19.
Oosterhoff spoke about the lack of youth involvement in parliament, and engaged in a short Q&A session about global warming, the role of faith in politics, and the role of media.
When talking about why he got involved in politics, Oosterhoff said that the Loyola High School v Québec case was what made him want to get into politics.
This case refers to a 2015 religious freedom case that saw the Supreme Court rule in favour of a Catholic high school that wanted an exemption from Québec’s law, which states that religions must be taught from a secular perspective. The case was a controversial battle between religious freedom and the need to follow the law.
“I was about 14 years old at that time,” Oosterhoff said, “and my family is religious and I’m religious. And I thought it was so incredible. It was really shameful that the government had that much impact on people’s lives.”
Oosterhoff strongly believes that young people, no matter their political background, should be involved in politics. “I got involved in politics for a really simple reason: I believe in freedom,” he said.
“I believe that government has a role also to promote virtue and that it’s important that we have a compassionate and caring society for our most vulnerable.”
When asked if he’s treated any differently in parliament because of his young age, Oosterhoff spoke about his tough experience trying to get a foot through a door.
“There are unique challenges but there are also unique opportunities,” he said. “When I was first elected, there was definitely sort of this air of, you know, this kid, he’s going to come in, he’s going to trip over his shoelaces… he’s going to fall flat on his face and it’ll be hilarious and we’ll get rid of him and have a real person in there.”
“So what ended up happening was that it really set the bar low, so it wasn’t that hard to go ahead and win this thing.”
Oosterhoff also discussed the role that faith plays in politics. While he believes in the separation of the church and the state, he also said that it would be naïve to assume that his faith doesn’t have an impact on his political values.
“As a Christian, I believe Christ called me to love the most vulnerable in our society and help people with passion and to look after the poor and the sick and the lonely,” said Oosterhoff. “To say that you want me to leave those values at home would be naïve.”
He also acknowledged the negative impact that his faith has had on his political career. “I’ve had interactions where I’d say people mischaracterize my faith, and turn that into a weapon against me, like, ‘Oh you’re a Christian so you must be a bigot.’”
“So, I found that very detrimental, because you can sometimes try to have a conversation with someone and they just view you through this very narrow lens of stereotypes,” said Oosterhoff.
Oosterhoff has received backlash from the public over his unclear views on whether homosexuality is a sin, though he has asserted that he is “absolutely not” a homophobe.
While talking about the role that media has played in his life and his political career, Oosterhoff recalled an interviews he had with the Toronto Star while he was campaigning, and talked about how media has played an interesting role in his life.
“They did a Toronto Star article on me, and they had a lot of outright false stuff. They called my niece by the wrong name, they had this whole thing where they called my father a soy bean farmer — he does poultry. They got all these things wrong about me, and so it’s very difficult to not to be cynical when you see these things,” said Oosterhoff.
However, he did acknowledge how social media also has a lot of positive aspects. “A lot of the media is actually trying to do a lot of good work, and we have to be gracious about that and not just name them malicious. Social media also gives us a valuable tool.”
Ending the discussion, Oosterhoff encouraged everyone to contribute to politics in whichever way they can. “Everyone can contribute, but the ways you contribute can be different. Different people have different strengths, but you can always contribute.”