Sam Oosterhoff, Ontario’s Gen Z Politician
Sam Oosterhoff (rhymes with “toaster cough”) was born August 22, 1997. In November 2016 the tall, slim, bespectacled teenager became the youngest Member of Provincial Parliament at age 19. During his campaign, Oosterhoff was still living at home with his parents. He is now paid over $100,000 a year for his service. In 2019 he married Keri Ludwig and they welcomed a baby boy, Sullivan, in January 2021. Sam is still serving as the youngest ever Ontario MPP for Niagara West.
Sam Oosterhoff grew up on the family farm in Vineland, Ontario, where he had a Christian upbringing and was homeschooled by his parents. Oosterhoff has publicly expressed appreciation for his homeschooling experience and credits his family for instilling the values of community, dedication, and service. Sam will gladly tell you that he was raised with no TV or Netflix but “definitely thousands” of books including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Machiavelli.
He has seven siblings – one of whom is a quail egg farmer and another is a professor of the history of philosophy at Cambridge University – but Sam was the first of the Oosterhoff clan to enter politics. The large family would have lots of discussions around the dinner table, including heated political discussions. Sam said that he was inspired by a couple of people: former Ontario politicians Tim Hudak and Sean O’Sullivan, both of whom had showed an interest in politics at a young age.
However, before Oosterhoff got involved in politics, his first love was music and that was his plan in life. Sam was actually accepted into university for music performance. He told Steve Paikin of The Agenda: “I’m a singer but also a pianist. I did my grade 10 royal conservatory of music and that was something I planned on going into and also getting into law school eventually. That was sort of my road. And from there I was hoping to get involved, whether it was in constitutional law or some sort of civil liberties organization or being able to make a difference that way.”
At the time he was elected, Sam was a freshman studying political science and economics at Brock University, which he entered as a homeschool graduate. He came from a conservative district, and he thought the issues they cared about like “freedom of religion, of speech, of expression, of opportunity, of fiscal responsibility” were not being represented very well by the candidates who were running. Oosterhoff had previously worked for a year on Parliament Hill in Ottawa as a legislative assistant and policy analyst for a federal conservative member of parliament from the Calgary area.
In the 2016 election, former MP and current president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario Rick Dykstra was the favoured candidate by both the party establishment and PC leader Patrick Brown, but Oosterhoff had more local support including that of his church. In fact, he was praised for his efforts with community engagement and his thorough knowledge of the issues.
Sam Oosterhoff ran on a common-sense, pro-life, pro-family platform that opposed a proposed radical sex ed curriculum. In spite of a relentless smear campaign against him, Oosterhoff defeated New Democratic Party challenger Mike Thomas, 61, and Liberal Party candidate Vicky Ringuette, 37, with over 50% of the popular vote. In fact, Sam received the highest vote percentage since at least the past five elections.
On March 7, 2017, Oosterhoff went on to defeat PC vice-president and Niagara Regional Councillor Tony Quirk for the PC nomination for the next provincial election in the new constituency of Niagara West, which replaced Niagara West-Glanbrook as a result of federal redistribution. Oosterhoff won 53% of the vote in the 2018 Ontario general election, defeating NDP candidate Curtis Fric.
“What this teaches us is that socially conservative politicians can win elections by being unapologetic about their pro-life and pro-family beliefs,” said Campaign Life Coalition spokesperson Jack Fonseca. “Too many Conservative politicians don’t understand the importance of standing on principle. Instead, they turn tail and run as soon as they feel the slightest pressure from liberals, and as a result, end up being seen as lacking integrity,” Fonseca pointed out.
Even though he was homeschooled, Sam said that he has respect for the public school system but he does see room for improvement. Still, he declares, “I will never waver in my support of parents as primary educators, and I will strive to ensure that parental rights are respected in education,” as outlined on his campaign website.
On June 29, 2018, Sam Oosterhoff was appointed Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education. In that role, Oosterhoff has taken leadership on areas such as French language education, anti-human trafficking policy, student transportation and educational agencies. Sam also serves as a Member of the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly, and a Member of the Select Committee on Emergency Management Oversight.
Young Upstart vs. The Critics
As a result of being homeschooled, Oosterhoff is a free-thinking GenZ-er who’s not afraid to go against the grain. In an article titled “Sam Oosterhoff, Boy Politician, Might Just Be For Real,” Maclean’s writer pious, bookish and increasingly cocky. He’s precisely the sort of disruptor angry conservatives crave. Pro-life, home-schooled and fresh off a farm, the teenage MPP is a phenomenon reflecting the sentiments of social Conservatives across Canada, who see their representatives slipping left and demand somebody—anybody—different” (March 9, 2017).
Just like Madison Cawthorn, the youngest member of U.S. Congress and fellow homeschool grad, Sam’s time in politics has not been without controversy. Abortion advocates already hated him for his strong pro-life stance. Then in October 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario, Oosterhoff stood for a group photo with about 40 people in a banquet hall, none of whom were wearing masks or social distancing, which was contrary to provincial public health rules. Oosterhoff apologized, saying he should have worn a mask and that except for the photograph, the group had otherwise distanced. (Let’s be honest, who else has not always worn a mask or socially distanced when you were supposed to?) Nevertheless, it made him look bad since he supported the face mask rules and business lockdowns.
But so far he’s weathered all the challenges, questions, and controversies, remaining confident in the face of his critics. Speaking of which, Sam was widely criticized for his televised rendition of the African-American spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” given his relatively trouble-free middle class upbringing. Seriously? Lighten up, people! It’s a popular song in hymnals, played by school jazz bands, even string orchestras, and many cover versions of it have been done by famous musicians. As a Christian singer and piano player, of course he would know this great gospel tune! It’s not like he was wearing blackface, which Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did multiple times.
Sam Oosterhoff on The Agenda
On April 18, 2018, Steve Paikin of The Agenda interviewed Oosterhoff about how he became political at such a young age, what it’s been like to work in the legislature, and what can be done to entice more young Ontarians to the polls. Sam actually began his first pro-life petition at age 12, targeting neighbouring farmers. But he was around 14 years old when he got bit by the political bug and it stuck with him.
SAM: “Actually, you know… It really pertained to religious freedom. The Loyola court decision as you may have heard was a private Catholic school in Quebec that was being told… it had to teach from a religiously neutral perspective, although it received no government subsidies. It was purely privately funded. And the government of Quebec at that time was telling them they had to teach from the perspective that contradicted their deeply held Catholic values. So they took it to the Supreme Court. And I remember observing that and reading about it and thinking, wow, I can’t believe there’s this much power in government that they’re able to force this type of thing down people’s throats.”
Paikin asked him, “How did you get the notion as a teenager you wanted to seek and win a party nomination and then become an MPP”?
SAM: “Yeah. so, you know, there was a couple of interesting situations that were at play in the riding that I decided to run in. Tim Hudak, I always had a lot of respect for, who was my MPP and someone who was also actually quite young. I believe he was 27 when he was elected. A little older than I was but also quite young. And he always said that age wasn’t a barrier to making a difference in politics and I had always heard from people who said age wasn’t a barrier but I hadn’t seen a lot of young people actually running for elected office themselves.”
“Father Sean O’Sullivan, the federal conservative member… a book that he wrote when he left because of leukemia, he left the house of commons and joined the Catholic church and became a priest there and he spoke quite highly of what he was able to also accomplish at a young age and I thought it was important that for young people to see their voice being represented at Queen’s Park and in legislatures across the country. You know, you hear a lot of disengagement from young people but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I think we need to see more young people also being represented.”
Paikin asked, “When you look around the legislature, pretty much everyone there is in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, even a couple of people in their 80s. What did you say to people who told you ‘Sam, you’re 19. It’s too early to be a politician. You’ve got to go and do something else first’”?
SAM: “I would actually say there was less than I was expecting. I was expecting more ageism, for lack of a better phrase, than I actually encountered. A lot of people came forward and offered their advice. A lot of people offered their wisdom. And I always say that politics is a team sport. I’m not doing this on my own. This isn’t just Sam Oosterhoff standing in the legislature and speaking from the wisdom of Sam Oosterhoff. This is about representing my constituents and listening to their priorities, their concerns, and their values. And that means surrounding myself with experienced people. People who have a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences, and listening to good advice. And also working hard because you have to work as hard as the next person when you’re young and trying to make a go of it.”
“I would say initially, the first couple months finding the bathrooms type of situation, having those introductory discussions and getting caught up to speed on what was going on provincially. Federal politics is a very different ball game from provincial politics. A couple of times it did cross my mind that I really needed to make sure I had good mentors that I was with. But I always believed very strongly in the power of democracy and that means listening to the voice of the people and I also work to consult with my riding and knowing I had their back when they supported me about issues that I had roundtables on, whether it was the opioid crisis or palliative care, it was issues not just me coming up, it was the conduit being the voice of the constituents in my riding and it gave me a lot of confidence.”
Paikin asked him, “Why do you think there are so many people your age who are disengaged from provincial politics?”
SAM: “I think a lot of it has to do with sort of this culture of low expectations that we’ve built surrounding our youth and it’s very unfortunate. I don’t think it’s only in politics, quite frankly. I think there are a lot of other areas. If you look back at the historical record and you look at the fact that we were sending 16 and 17-year-olds across to mainland Europe to fight the Nazis and sending them to the east to die as well, young people have had responsibility on their shoulders and since the second world war it seemed we have lost that type of engagement and we’ve almost seen a type of tokenism creeping in. People say we need to encourage the youth, we need to engage the youth. When the youth actually come forward with ideas and issues that are important to them, it’s often said, we’ve heard your recommendation. We’re not going to do anything on it. Unfortunately that’s led to a type of disengagement among young people where they think their voice isn’t always being heard and that influences voter turnout.”
Paikin said, “presumably you see something valuable in the experience of provincial politics that other people your age do not see. So what do you see that they don’t?”
SAM: “I see the potential to make a difference, and I see also the reality that it doesn’t help any to sit there and complain what’s going on if you’re not actually getting out and getting involved. I’ve got to say in the United States, seeing what’s involved with the American young people as it pertains to gun control, I think they’re really, really taking that initiative and I think that’s also awakening a spark in the hearts of young people here north of the border who are saying we can make a difference. We can make a change. I know in my own short career, I’ve had the opportunity to run into a lot of young people on different campuses, I’ve visited most of the campuses across the province as the youth liaison for the PCs, of all things, and young people… They want to see a change.”
Paikin read data from a report titled “Youthquake? Public Attitudes to Youth Civic Engagement in Canada” (March 22, 2018), which says “70% of adults believe young Canadians are not prepared to act as community civic leaders. They think young people aren’t prepared enough to vote, become active in their communities and act as community civic leaders.” Then he asked Sam, “What do you think is contributing to adults feeling that way?”
SAM: “There may be a number of factors. To a certain extent young people have done it to themselves as well. We have self-isolated ourselves from particular areas and said that’s for, I don’t want to call it adults, but for older adults to get involved. We’re not going to get involved in those areas. We’re not going to get involved in the Rotary or Lions Club and we’re pushing off adulting until later and later ages, and I think that’s having an unfortunate impact. But I think also there’s other things. If you look at the age that people are getting married at, the age that people are getting their first mortgage at, that’s one thing. Because of that older people are looking at younger people and saying they’re not taking on these responsibilities. The adolescence stage seems to last longer and it becomes a vicious cycle. Because of low expectations, young people don’t want to rise to exceed those expectations, and because they don’t exceed those expectations often enough, older people may view them as never being able to exceed those expectations.”
“I would say I’m probably more conservative than a lot of young people my age, but I think that I’ve really done my best to reach out to young people from all political stripes and hear what their concerns are… i would say that overall I’ve done my best to reach out to people of all political stripes, young people, and say get involved, particularly young women. I think we need to see more young women involved in politics and see that type of perspective being brought forward.”
“I’m reading a book right now called Faith in Politics Matters, from the perspective of a variety of different people of faith and I was involved with the Faith in Canada 150 last year where I went to a weekend with faith leaders with different backgrounds, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Anglican, you name it, they were there, Baha’i, and we had this very discussion. At one point one of the moderators asked the young people, we were all under the age of 30, if there was adequate space to discuss faith in public life. The response was overwhelmingly no. They felt there wasn’t enough space to discuss faith. I think that what we’ve unfortunately done is created just a very… Sort of a caption for people of faith and we sort of put them in this little box and assume that, oh, if you’re from this background, this is what you believe. And if you’re from this background, this is what you believe. We haven’t been able to allow people to sit down and talk about what that faith has an impact on their policy and beliefs.”
Socially Conservative Politician
Sam Oosterhoff is a member of the Canadian Reformed Church, and a socially conservative member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Sam is pro-life and believes in fighting for pre-born human rights. In May 2019, Oosterhoff participated in a pro-life rally hosted by March for Life. During his speech at the rally, he said that “We have survived 50 years of abortion in Canada and we pledge to fight to make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime.” In March 2021, he spoke at an event titled “Gen Z: Challenging Abortion in Politics.” Sam also believes in traditional family values. When the liberals presented a bill that would enable same-sex couples to adopt children, Oosterhoff didn’t show up to vote, and said the legislation was “disrespectful to mothers and fathers.”
While Sam is known as a “social conservative,” he says “there’s an unfortunate thing that happens where when people become labelled and they get put into these boxes. It becomes very difficult for them to speak about other issues and it becomes difficult for me, for example, when I speak about climate change and when I speak about some of these other issues that are so important to people my age as well that’s not really heard. It’s just heard that we view you from this particular perspective and we’re going to talk about this particular aspect. But I think there’s other areas as a Christian I’m called to love the most vulnerable in our society right? And that also means reaching out to the poor, the sick, and the lonely and having that discussion.”
Sam Oosterhoff has always been honest and upfront about his deeply held personal convictions, and he says people appreciate that. Still, he aims to remain focused on providing a voice for all constituents. “I’m going to listen to my constituents as well and see what they’re talking about when it comes to also controversial issues. I think we need to make sure that there is consultation always being done and we have to respect the true diversity of views around some of these issues of conscience as well. I’m going to be doing my best to listen to my constituents, bringing their perspectives forward.”
Oosterhoff said, “I think also the people who voted for me, I always listen to my colleagues and peers, but I think the people who voted for me understood that when they sent me to Queen’s Park, they wanted a fresh approach. They didn’t want a member of the old boys club. They wanted someone who was going to speak his mind… and that means standing by your principles and saying what you believe in as well.” According to Sam, there’s a “long-standing tradition within the PC party of allowing members to vote their conscience.”
Having grown up in the Niagara Peninsula, Oosterhoff is proud to represent his home community of Vineland, and all of the hard-working families of Niagara West. Sam has always had a deep appreciation for faith, family and service to community. He attends local meetings and speaks at numerous events in the area. “His volunteers give out Jujubes at the door, while family members tell stories of him shooting paintballs from a tree fort, or assailing raccoons with BB guns” (Meagan Campbell, March 9, 2017).
Oosterhoff continues to work hard to ensure a better future for all Ontarians. On government policy and the future of young people, Sam says he has seen the damages done by the provincial government, and he plans to keep the spotlight on the issues that were echoed by many of his constituents, such as increased hydro rates, cost of living, and hospital wait times.
Sam says “I think at the end of the day a lot of young people, whether or not they’re in university or in college, I think of my peers, they want to be able to get ahead, they want to be able to graduate university and get a good job, they want to be able to afford life and they want to be able to buy a house… we will have policy that will work to make life more affordable for all Ontarians and that obviously includes those just entering the work force, those entering university, and we’re going to be doing our best to make sure that young people as well get ahead in the province of Ontario.”
Visit Oosterhoff’s official website and if you are one of his constituents you can take a survey, order a congratulatory certificate, invite him to an event, or request a meeting.