For Sam Oosterhoff, growing up on the family farm meant no job was too big or too small. It meant knowing what was required, jumping in, and doing what needed to be done. That work also required him to be a humble listener, such as when he needed advice from crop specialists and veterinarians.
These principles proved helpful when he decided to run for a position in the provincial parliament six years ago at age 19. “I believe it’s important to listen to the voices of people in my constituency. I ran to ensure that their voices were being heard,” he said.
“One of the things I learned quite quickly is that we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for a reason. And it’s important to use them accordingly. So, it’s having the opportunity to just meet with people from so many different walks of life and backgrounds, and to hear their stories.”
In addition, he stepped forward because he felt that the government needed more representation from a younger generation.
“In every area of life, there are going to be things that people might not be completely happy about. I didn’t like the ‘old boys club.’ But the beauty of democracy is that you can run, and you can try to fix that, or you can get involved to change it,” he said.
Prior to his campaign, Oosterhoff’s only political experience was a stint as a legislative assistant on Parliament Hill. But it didn’t deter him — or voters — as he went on to become the youngest MPP elected in Ontario. “You don’t have to be 55 with a successful business under your belt, a law degree, and political knowledge, and all these sorts of things,” to enter politics, he said. He is now a three-time elected parliamentarian for Niagara West under the Progressive Conservative Party.
Although he tossed his hat into the ring so that the system would have “a diversity of perspectives from people of all ages and backgrounds, important for our democracy,” Oosterhoff is quick to note that the concerns of the day affect everyone.
“They’re perhaps exacerbated and felt more by youth, but they’re not unique to youth. Things like economic opportunity; lack of housing; ensuring that there are good, well-paying jobs; that they’re able to put food on the table; and have that economic opportunity,” he said. “I believe a strong economy and sustainable public services matter to young people as much as they do to anyone else.”
What, precisely, are the solutions to these tough issues? Less talk, more action, Oosterhoff insists.
“I believe people don’t want to see more committees struck, more task forces, more report writing, more infighting and politicking. They want to see shovels in the ground, and they want to see governments that won’t make excuses,” he said. “I think it’s about cutting red tape; making sure that businesses are able to go about their business without burdensome regulations that are preventing them from growing; making investments in infrastructure that expands the economy.”
But here’s where he believes the government can directly address the needs of youth: “It’s imperative that school curricula impart vital skills for thriving in the future, including financial literacy, skilled trades, and interpersonal skills,” he said.
There are, however, no guarantees of policy success, Oosterhoff noted, even when those policies are well intentioned. As most politicians do, he often receives criticism about how things are handled. In response to these concerns, he tells people: “I believe that we have a very good system of government. We have strong institutions in Canada. But that doesn’t mean you’re always going to get the result each and every time that you like.”
Oosterhoff added, that if an individual feels strongly enough that the outcome or policy is going the wrong way, he or she can step forward and have their say, just as he did with his run for office.
“You can get involved very early on, whether that’s as simple as buying a membership for a political party and voting in a leadership race, or getting involved with a local riding association, or running yourself.”
by Dave Gordon | Contributing Writer