“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows my sorrow,” eccentric Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff once sang to host Steve Paikin while being interviewed on TVO, and that’s the trouble with Sam Oosterhoff right there.
The man cannot read an audience. Also, he can sing loudly but not well, which works in church but nowhere else. And he calls the cops on nice library-loving seniors, but we’ll get to that.
Voters like politicians with a personality — Brits insist on it — but they generally prefer a pleasant one, or even a comic caricature like Angry Pyjamas Conservative MP Peter Kent shouting at clouds. Oosterhoff, in 2016 the youngest MPP ever elected to the Ontario legislature — he was 19 and still in his first year at university — is a different creature. He is the Ontario Conservatives’ absolute unit.
Successful politicians like people, or are at least relaxed in their presence. Every constituent, from dim-wit to drone, from city to village, gets a chat, a handshake and a smile. Good politicians don’t take things personally. Insults run off their back.
And whether female or male, all successful politicians are affable. That is not Oosterhoff’s vibe. He is awkward. He is manic.
Oosterhoff is a socially conservative Christian who has no business singing an African-American spiritual sung by slaves as they picked cotton. As far as I can tell, no white man has sung it seriously since Bing Crosby in 1961 in an album that included “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
Oosterhoff, who represents Niagara West, was home-schooled, which may partly explain it. Even with seven siblings present, home-schooling means you might learn but still miss out on the social norms of a classroom not entirely filled with Oosterhoffs.
Also, is a home-schooled MPP qualified to be parliamentary assistant to the education minister? He’s night-schooling and summer-coursing at Brock University so he can keep his day job. He opposes sex-ed, but I’m not sure the home-schooling curriculum covered that. As the satirical The Beaverton put it, “he was sick of all these ‘cocky’ pre-teens knowing so much more than him about how babies are made.”
Equally, when Oosterhoff campaigns against abortion rights outside Queen’s Park by quoting from Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who!—“A person’s a person, no matter how small” — and swears he’ll make abortion “unthinkable in our lifetime,” he elides a certain small matter.
Oosterhoff is engaged to be married. Without being indelicate, one does presume that the act of procreation or “doing it” is as yet unknown to him. And that doesn’t match with telling the rest of us that every sperm is sacred and a dot of cells is practically ready for kindergarten.
It’s a matter of courtesy, if not taste. Who is he to lecture us?
And then came the local mob. Almost entirely female, it comprised 15 retirees and seniors bearing library books. They were protesting the Conservative government killing the service that moves books among southern Ontario libraries on request.
These gentle people showed up for eight minutes at Oosterhoff’s constituency office in Beamsville to hold a protest — a read-in, but a silent one — against the ruling. Former librarians, members of book clubs and devoted readers all, they were told to leave, which they did.
Oosterhoff was not there, only shows up on Fridays and is booked months ahead for one-on-ones, they were told. Oosterhoff’s office had called the police. Three officers questioned the group but made no arrests.
Oosterhoff later defended calling the cops, tweeting that his staff couldn’t make the women leave and that he was trying to protect the privacy of his constituents. Sadly, he did not say, “A person’s a person, no matter how old.”
He had previously called police when his parents’ home address was tweeted out by an angry voter. So there’s Oosterhoff finally getting something right. Never attack anyone’s family, never endanger anyone.
If only Oosterhoff would stick with that. What he needs is the buddy system, another MPP to pal with him at the pool and make sure he doesn’t run out from between parked cars, as we learned in Grade 1.
At 21, he’s about as smart as I was at that age, which flatters neither of us. Look, he’s a kid. He just needs a friend, preferably one with social skills.
Heather Mallick is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @HeatherMallick