Salt and Light in the Legislature

06 Dec 2016 Salt and Light in the Legislature

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The feature this week is an exclusive interview with Sam Oosterhoff, the new MPP for the Niagara West-Glanbrook constituency in Ontario. Click here to read the transcript of the interview.

In the news:

Bill 28, the so-called “All Families are Equal Act”, has passed the Ontario legislature. Click here as we take a look at both the political and moral implications of the bill.

The Senate is about to take up discussion on Bill C-16, the new federal law on so-called gender expression. Click here for more on what Senator Don Plett had to say to his colleagues.

And an interesting case before the Supreme Court of Canada on religious freedom. Click here to see what Derek Ross of the Christian Legal Fellowship had to say about this important case.

BILL 28 PASSES ONTARIO LEGISLATURE – DUE TO BE ENACTED JANUARY 1

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The Ontario legislature has passed Bill 28, the so-called “All Families are Equal Act”. This is the law that rewrites the notion of parenting to include up to 4 adults, and removes all statutory reference to the terms “mother” and “father” in Ontario legislation.

The vote was held last week, and it was unanimous. 79 members voted in favour, there were none opposed. However, 27 MPPs, most of them from Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservative Party, didn’t show up for the vote. ARPA lawyer John Sikkema says Brown painted himself into a corner with an early promise that his party would support the bill. “I would imagine there was a lot of pressure for those who might have been opposed to it to either vote for it or not vote at all.”  Sikkema says there was “so much of substance in the bill to criticise and vote against.”

Sikkema says the vote illustrates that the official opposition in Ontario seems loathe to take up the debate on issues of principle like this one. “We don’t see it from Patrick Brown – he doesn’t seem to have the will to stand on principle.”  Because of that, Sikkema says the Christian community may have to “find our own avenues for advancing the conversation.”

It is worth noting that Sam Oosterhoff, the new MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook, wasn’t able to vote because he had not yet been sworn in.

Bill 28 being condemned in the broader Christian community.

Ontario’s Bill 28 is attracting considerable attention, even internationally. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky, Albert Mohler, took note of it on his “Briefing” podcast last week. He says Bill 28 is clearly a slap in the face of the traditional Biblical understanding of the family. “The biblical worldview straightforwardly makes clear, and it makes clear in various ways, that God’s normative design for the family is a husband and a wife united in the conjugal union of marriage and the children that come by means of reproduction or by means of adoption. The Bible itself makes very clear that anything outside of that normative pattern comes with a cost, a cost to the individuals involved, a cost to the civilization of which that family is apart. And there is the understanding that something less than wholeness is found wherever something is absent from this picture.”

Mohler also warned that Bill 28 will “destabilize the family, (and) lead to problems for everyone in Canadian society.”  You can listen to the podcast, or read a full transcript of Dr. Mohler’s remarks, here.

DEBATE BEGINS IN THE SENATE ON TRANSGENDER BILL

Senator Don Plett
Senator Don Plett

The Senate started debate on Bill C-16 last month. This is the law that adds the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the grounds under which discrimination is prohibited in Canada both in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. Senator Don Plett, who has fought this kind of legislation before, urged his colleagues in the Upper House not to make the same mistake that was made in the House of Commons, where there were no Committee hearings on the substance of the Bill. “We should be so confident in the legislation that we bring forward, and certainly in the legislation we pass, that we are willing to have it withstand a thorough and rigorous vetting process,” Plett said. “We as legislators and public policy-makers should not be afraid of the difficult conversations. Legislation that has serious implications on freedom of speech — and, for the first time in Canadian law, compelled speech — cannot be passed so flippantly without thorough public discourse, debate and consideration.”

A full transcript of Senator Plett’s speech is available here. Senate debate on the bill is set to resume in the new year.

SUPREME COURT HEARS LANDMARK RELIGIOUS FREEDOM CASE

Derek Ross, executive director of the Christian Legal Fellowship
Derek Ross, executive director of the Christian Legal Fellowship
clf-logo

The Supreme Court of Canada heard a case last week involving the relationship between the proposed construction of a ski resort in BC and the notion of freedom of religion. The Ktunaxa Indian band near Kamloops is challenging provincial approval of that ski resort on the grounds that the process didn’t take into account the notion that the resort would desecrate a site that’s sacred to them, and would interfere with a variety of spiritual practices which they say are still conducted on that mountainside.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Christian Legal Fellowship filed a joint written intervention in the case, urging the Court to take the religious freedom aspect of the case very seriously. CLF lawyer Derek Ross says the case raises some very important questions about how far religious freedom should be protected. “What the BC Court of Appeal said in the decision that this is being appealed from was that the Charter ‘does not protect religious exercise to the extent that it requires others to act or refrain from acting, or behave in a manner consistent with a belief that they do not share.’” Ross says if that is taken as a blanket statement, it “could (set) some very troubling precedents.”

Ross says while it may seem incongruent for expressly Christian organizations like EFC and CLF to intervene in a case involving native spirituality, “if we truly believe that freedom of religion and freedom of worship are important to society… then we should be prepared to defend it, even if it’s for other faith communities.” Part of that, he says, is to “stand up for the rights of others so that we keep the door open for them and for us.”

The submission from the CLF-EFC does not specifically address whether the ski resort should be built. Instead, it urges the court to give full consideration to the effect of the land development on the Ktunaxa Nation’s section 2(a) Charter rights to religious freedom.

We’ll have a feature-length interview with Mr. Ross on this issue as part of the next edition of Lighthouse News.

FEATURE TRANSCRIPT

MPP Sam Oosterhoff
MPP Sam Oosterhoff

On the feature this week, an exclusive interview with Sam Oosterhoff, the newly-elected MPP for the Ontario provincial constituency of Niagara West-Glanbrook.
Oosterhoff is the 19-year old Brock University student who stunned the Ontario PC Party with a nomination win a few months ago in a by-election in the Niagara region, and then went on to win that by-election with more than 50% of the popular vote.

We spoke with Mr. Oosterhoff a week after his by-election win, and a week before he was sworn in and officially took his seat in the legislature.

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LN: Let’s begin by going back a little bit to your decision to run for the Ontario PCs. A lot of social conservatives in Ontario were frankly not that pleased with the leader of the Party after what they perceived as a flip flop on the sex-ed thing in the Scarborough by-election. Did you make you decision to run before that?  How does that all fit?  How do you fit into that paradigm?

SO: Well, I decided to run at the end of August. August 21st I decided to run officially, which was before the Scarborough/Rouge River incident. And Al, I’m excited to be part of the team that respects deeply held beliefs and has a long-standing history of free votes on issues of conscience, and part of a Party that respects those with deeply held values and deeply held beliefs. That’s not something we see in the other two parties. I mean both the NDP and the Liberals are extremely ideological in their leanings. They’re extremely closed-minded when it comes to accepting those who have different values or different beliefs from their own, and I’m excited to be part of a team that celebrates the diversity and that celebrates having people from different perspectives and different beliefs and values. That’s something that we don’t see in the other parties, so I’m excited to be part of the team.

LN: So you’re comfortable that your social conservative expression as you expressed it particularly during the nomination campaign is something that will be allowed to be given voice in the caucus (and) in the provincial legislature?

SO: Well Al, I’ve been very consistent throughout the discussion that I’m a comprehensive conservative. I’m not a one-issue person; I’m a conservative on a wide variety of issues, and I’m excited to work with a team that respects that, and that allows me to bring forward the concerns and priorities and values of my constituents. And I promised very much during the nomination and the campaign that I’d be a strong voice for those values and concerns and priorities. So that’s something that this party respects; we respect grass roots movements and democracy really, and it’s exciting to be part of a team that allows people to bring forward the concerns of their constituents within caucus or within the legislature, and I’m excited to see how I can be a salt and a light within that framework, and really be a voice of truth in that framework.

LN: So, you didn’t answer my question directly. I don’t want to be difficult here but are you comfortable that there will be room for you to express those views within the caucus and within the legislature?

SO: Yes. Yes.

LN:  Party discipline is something that’s there, will party discipline be applied on some of these issues? I guess that’s the question.

SO: Yeah. You know, that’s a bit of a speculative question. I mean, we’re having to see the issues as they do come up, and I’ve been very clear about my positions on certain issues and there seems to be a great deal of respect within the caucus and within the party for my beliefs and perspectives, and so far I haven’t had any issues with that.

LN: I don’t want this interview to be just about that issue, but it is top of mind for a lot of folks. Generally speaking, what’s your relationship with the party going to be like moving forward given some of your public statements which were not in line with some of the public statements that your leader had made?  And also, frankly, given the way you took on and took out the establishment in the nomination; a guy like Rick Dykstra? How does that go moving forward?

SO: Well, I guess we’ll have to see moving forward, but I’ve committed to being a strong voice for my constituents; having an open door with them and letting them come forward with those concerns and I will bring those forward in a responsible effective way. That was what I promised during my nomination. That’s what I promised during the campaign, and that’s something the party is very respectful of. So I don’t expect it being a huge issue.

LN: A lot has been made of your social conservative credentials. Especially, if I can be honest, by social conservatives. Is there a risk that you’ll be viewed as kind of a one-dimensional MPP now that you’re going to Queen’s Park? Is there more to Sam Oosterhoff than the home-schooled, pro-life, 19-year old, social conservative giant-killer candidate that we heard so much about?

SO: (Laughs) Well, I think that is a very fair question, Al. There’s a very real danger that people do attempt to place me into a particular slot (but) like I said earlier, I’m a comprehensive conservative. I’m focused on a wide variety of issues and I’m focused on representing the concerns of people here in the riding. Small businesses, the industries that make up our beautiful riding; the tourism sector here. I’ve been pushing during the campaign, I was really focused on Hydro rates, focused on health care here in the riding, and I think I’ve been clear that my issues cover a broad spectrum. I’m not a one-issue candidate, and I don’t intend to be a one-issue MPP. I intend to address a wide variety of concerns across the province. I mean, we’ve seen the damage the Liberals have done in industries – to families across the riding – to a wide variety of people from different backgrounds in a wide variety of areas of political involvement. So I’m excited to speak to a lot of those (issues).

I would definitely say there’s a danger that some may attempt to put me into one box, but I’m a comprehensive conservative, and that’s something that I’ve repeated time and time again throughout the campaign as well.

LN: For you, what are some of your legislative priorities as you head into this? I mean, I look at a guy like Arnold Viersen federally. You know, it’s been a year since (that) election, and he’s already made quite a name for himself with some particular stuff that he’s brought forward; a particular “image” even, if you want, that he’s sort of cultivated in Parliament. Are you looking at any of that or is it just a case right now of “you know, I just want to get my feet wet first”?

SO: Well, I would say there’s definitely a component of just needing to take the time to get my bearings and figure out what sort of image I do want to cultivate and what sort of MPP I need to be. And a lot of that will be dictated by the priorities of my constituents. I aim to be a constituency MPP first and foremost. During the campaign I made it very clear on several issues such as hydro rates I’m going to be pushing for, health care infrastructure, those are huge priorities for everyone in the riding; for every community in the riding that is affected. So I’m going to be pushing on those issues. When it comes to some other issues, I’m looking at conscience protections for physicians here in the province. We don’t have codified conscience protections for physicians who do not want to perform euthanasia or Medical Assistance in Dying, so I’m excited to see what I can bring forward on that type of file. But I haven’t been sworn in yet. I get sworn in likely next week, so I haven’t had the opportunity to really take the time and reflect on what priorities there will be going forward, but I’m excited to see what the Lord puts in my path going forward. I mean, there’s a lot of opportunities and there’s a lot of good work that needs to be done, and I’m excited to work hard and surround myself with good people.

LN: OK, you’re a rookie. You haven’t sat in your seat in the legislature yet. You haven’t written your maiden speech. But based on where you are right now, let’s project out two years. At the next election two years from now, what will you consider to be “success” in terms of your initial time at Queen’s Park? How would you define that as you look at it today?

SO: Success would be ensuring that the needs of my community are being met. I mean, we haven’t had a sitting MPP for three years, and one of the things when I was working on Parliament Hill was being able to help people in a very basic way with their constituency case files. It’s really great to be able to help people with very practical, down-to-earth things, and I love that part of it. Helping neighbours and helping those around me. So every case file that comes forward I would hope to be able to solve. That would be a huge goal. For the rest, just figuring out how I can be a salt and a light within the legislature, and how I can provide some perspectives on various issues of legislation that come forward, and to figure out my role there; that I can be as effective as I possibly can. Right now, I’m sort of taking things one day at a time, and I haven’t specific goals other than that we have a hospital in the riding that has been promised since the beginning of the ’90’s, and hasn’t come through yet. So I’m going to be pushing for that. If I can get the hospital approved here in Niagara West-Glanbrook, then I’ll be hugely, hugely happy.

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