The teen candidate that spells trouble for PC leader Patrick Brown: Fisher
Robert Fisher's Ontario political analysis appears here every two weeks
Remember two weeks ago when Robert Fisher told us that trouble was coming for popular Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown?
Well, it's already here. And its name is Sam Oosterhoff. Fresh out of high school.
He's the 19-year-old who has been chosen by conservatives in the Niagara West-Glanbrook riding to be their candidate in an upcoming by-election. He believes abortion and same sex marriage should be illegal. And that's not the message Brown wants the rest of the province to hear about his party.
Were social conservatives in Niagara sending Brown a message? He says 'no.' But what does our Ontario political affairs expert Robert Fisher say? Click on the image at the top of this page to hear his full interview with the CBC's Conrad Collaco. Or, you can read an edited and abridged transcription of that interview below.
Robert Fisher, political analyst
Two weeks ago you predicted that trouble was coming for Patrick Brown. What happened in Niagara West-Glanbrook?
The plan in Niagara West-Glanbrook was not to have Mr. Oosterhoff as a candidate, it was to have Mr. Dykstra as a candidate, a friend of Mr. Brown's. Mr. Brown did keep hands off in the nomination process. Clearly the view was that Mr. Dykstra had the experience that Mr. Brown wanted to bring to Queen's Park. It's almost a given that a Conservative will win this particular riding. You hear that privately from the Liberals and New Democrats. Still, Mr. Oosterhoff has really shaken up the Conservative party and, in particular, Mr. Brown.
Why do you think the Conservatives in that riding chose to elect him?
Mr. Brown will deny this, and that's fine, I'll take him on his word but if you examine the demographic of the people who supported Mr. Oosterhoff you will see that they come from the social conservative side of the party — people who would be from the right to life movement, evangelical Christians, people who oppose Kathleen Wynne's sex ed. curriculum and who would oppose gay marriage.
These are issues that could well define Patrick Brown. He says he's a changed man from his days on Parliament Hill and is looking to create a more centrist PC party. It would be hard to describe Sam Oosterhoff, even as a 19-year-old first year poli-sci Brock University student — he's obviously paying attention to his lectures there — as a centrist part of the Conservative party.
Is this revenge for the position taken by Patrick Brown on the curriculum?
It's really interesting. Mr. Brown says 'no' but when you talk to people on the social conservative side of the party they say absolutely it is. They are very disappointed on Mr. Brown's flip flop on the sex ed. curriculum and wanted to use this election as a shot across the bow to let Mr. Brown know that 'we're still here, we got you elected and we want you to go back to those views that you had years ago when you ran for the leadership.'
Years ago Brian Mulroney, the Conservative Prime Minister used to say — and I apologize to the English teachers listening to us — "you dance with the one that brung you." It was the people from the social conservative side that 'brung' Mr. Brown to the leadership and they want him not to forget that.
There's something to this suggestion that they were sending him some kind of a message but he wants them to be a viable party in large urban areas where these social conservative ideas would not necessarily mesh with the voters of a particular Conservative riding.
What about the message to Oosterhoff? His website has been completely revamped. Is that a sign he'll fall in line with the rest of the party?
I think he has to. He wants to be seen as campaigning with Patrick Brown and other members of the Conservative caucus. I wouldn't say, generally speaking, that the Tories I've had contact with at Queen's Park have been overwhelmed with welcome for Mr. Oosterhoff and are waiting to see what he's all about. He has disappeared from the media profile in this province, not talking to many people. It could be that the party has told him to 'keep these opinions to yourself, they don't represent what the party is supposed to be about. We'll help you get elected but just keep quiet about it.' His disappearance in the time of a by-election is absolutely incredible.
Contrast that with Andre Marin, the former Ontario Ombudsman, running for the Conservatives in Ottawa-Vanier, the other Nov. 17 by-election. Mr. Marin has never met a microphone he didn't like. He is talking to anybody and everybody, everywhere he can in that riding. The contrast is quite dramatic. Mr. Brown clearly is happy with what Mr. Marin says but not with what Mr. Oosterhoff may say to reporters.
Do you think Patrick Brown would actually prefer to lose that by-election?
I am asked that question everywhere I go from people that know me from my days at Queen's Park. I say there's a kind of yes and no to that. Yes — you eliminate a problem for your caucus. No — you are trying to show momentum as a Tory leader and need to underscore your lead in the polls with by-election wins. Yes, he needs Oosterhoff but he also needs to assert his leadership of the party otherwise there will be many people waiting in the wings seeing him as a weak leader, not that there will be a takeover of the party before the election. But, after the election Mr. Brown could be seeing other employment.
How have the Liberals and NDP reacted to Oosterhoff's election?
There's a public view and a private view. The public view is that they are gleeful at the problems presented for Mr. Brown by Mr. Oosterhoff. Privately they will tell you they have all but conceded this particular by-election. On the 17th anything could happen but it's interesting to note Kathleen Wynne takes every opportunity to laud her candidate in that riding as a progressive woman, which I think is code for 'she supports sex education, she supports gay marriage.' It's a separation between what Mr. Brown used to be and may still be, who knows, and what Kathleen Wynne is all about.
The NDP are very high on their candidate (Mike Thomas, a former Hamilton Police officer). I think it surprised a lot of people. There may be a lot of people surprised to find police officers supportive of the NDP. You only have to ask Bob Rae, when he was Premier, the kind of reception he would get from police. The others are solid candidates but the history of the riding is Conservative. I wouldn't be surprised to see whoever loses run in the general election in 2018.