It may seem like a quiet March Tuesday, but don’t be fooled because there’s a good old-fashioned political donnybrook brewing down Niagara way.
Is it an undercutting of a current sitting member of the provincial legislature who ticked off the Progressive Conservative establishment, or just democracy on full display?
On that answer it depends on who you ask.
Even though he’s been pushed to seek the nomination again, Sam Oosterhoff, MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook, calls it democracy in action.
“I am eager to make the case to the members of the Ontario PC Party in Niagara West that I am the best Progressive Conservative to go into the 2018 election,” he told me while out stumping on Tuesday. “Our leader, Patrick Brown, has been very clear that he supports open and transparent nominations and that is what this is.”
Talk with the 19-year-old Brock University student’s supporters, though, and you hear that as the sitting MPP, he should have been given consideration to run again for the Tories unchallenged and is a victim of old-boy politics.
Talk with popular regional Councillor Tony Quirk’s supporters, and you get that their guy has earned his stripes after 23 years of party battles and is more seasoned to be considered for a potential cabinet post.
For the PC riding association, it will all come to a head at 9 p.m. at the fairgrounds in West Lincoln.
Lots of political intrigue underway. So many plots. So many players.
For starters, this is former PC leader Tim Hudak’s longtime riding. Then comes along a 19-year-old social conservative kid who upset the apple cart by winning the nomination to run in the byelection to replace Hudak by packing the hall with supporters from churches, colleges and everywhere in between.
He didn’t just win the nomination, he knocked out party president Rick Dykstra and then went on to win the byelection.
That’s the good news for Oosterhoff. The bad news is he’s not yet part of the club — which is made up of members falling more behind Brown’s more centrist, less social conservative style, policies and mantra.
And hence a rare, but not unprecedented, decision was made to not let Oosterhoff automatically go into the 2018 general election as the party’s nominee as most sitting members enjoy, but to make him fight for it through local votes once again.
Enter Quirk, who came in fourth last time.
“It’s a clear choice between my experience in both political life and business life,” Quirk said. “People in the riding have asked me to put my name forward and I was proud to do it.”
Some of this comes from the fact that the riding will change in the next election from Niagara West-Glanbrook to Niagara West, where while it loses Glanbrook, it gains Wainfleet and part of St. Catharines.
“Sam is a good kid and a good member,” said Quirk, adding he was “proud” to be his co-chair in the byelection. “But that did not change my desire to be the MPP for the area and to offer some experience to the leader should we have the privilege of forming the next government.”
Still, it is unusual to ask someone who won a seat to have to fight for a nomination again.
Oosterhoff has chosen not to whine about it.
“Complaining doesn’t get you anywhere,” he said. “Winning does.”
The key is to get the vote out. Whoever does will be the representative for the PCs in Niagara West in the 2018 election.
I am told to expect a vocal affair Tuesday night.
“There’s going to be blood on the floor,” said one PC member. “There are strong views on both sides and they are going to have it out tonight.”
The up to 3,000 eligible ballots will be tallied up at 9 p.m. Stay tuned.
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