Tony Quirk. BOB LOBLAW PHOTO
Grimsby Niagara Region Councillor contests sitting MPP Sam Oosterhoff for 2018 nomination
BY NATE SMELLE
When 19-year-old Sam Oosterhoff was elected MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook in last November’s by-election, it appeared the first-year Brock student had taken a huge first step towards a bright future with the Conservative Party. Yet just three months after taking over the former Tory leader Tim Hudak’s seat, Oosterhoff’s political career is in jeopardy.
Though it is uncommon for a sitting MPP to be challenged by a fellow party member, Grimsby’s Niagara Regional Councillor, Tony Quirk, has filed to contest for the controversial far-right MPP’s seat.
Quirk spoke to the Voice late last week at Grimsby Town Hall, whose modernistic, nearly all-white interior, joked Quirk, reminded him of an Apple Store. Quirk placed no topic out-of-bounds, and directly answered every question put to him during the hour-plus interview, often in more detail than space permits here.
According to Quirk, discussions to replace Oosterhoff as the PC’s candidate in the new riding of Niagara-West in 2018 began after the Christmas holiday. Pointing out that it would be nearly impossible for the Party to replace Oosterhoff as their candidate if he were to be re-elected in 2018, Quirk said now is the last best chance to make the change.
With no one else stepping up, and the window of opportunity closing, Quirk said he decided to make a run for Oosterhoff’s seat after hearing how disappointed some of his fellow conservatives had become with the prospect of Oosterhoff remaining MPP beyond 2018.
Being involved with the PCs for the past 23 years, the 46-year-old Quirk said he has established a network of friends on both sides of the aisle, many of which have raised concerns about Oosterhoff’s ability to be an effective representative for the people of Niagara-West at Queen’s Park.
“He goes to a lot of events, he gets his picture on social media a lot and that’s great, but he’s not articulating the concerns properly,” Quirk said.
“I’m also hearing that he’s not listening to people when they come to him with concerns. There are groups who have come away from meetings with him and complained to me about either a lack of preparedness on the file, or a lack of willingness to listen. Or, that he’s going into it with his mind already made up. He’ll tell you that’s ‘principled conservatism,’ and that he knows what his principles are. At 19, I would like to think that my principles were different than what they are now.”
In a statement emailed to the Voice which appears on page 5, Oosterhoff appears to assert that party leadership continues to back him, but Quirk responds that the party executive is neutral, and that the Party was, “well within its right to deny my application if they did not want me to present an alternative to Sam.”
Quirk says that leader Patrick Brown will provide a letter of support to all caucus members, adding, “I would not expect anything less from the Leader or our caucus. They have to work with each other for the next 15 months until the next election.”
A lifelong local boy, Quirk attended Grimsby Secondary School and McMaster University (studying engineering and political science). He has served as Director of the Grimsby Chamber of Commerce, Alderman for the Town of Grimsby, Director of Grimsby Power and vice-chair of the Grimsby Downtown Revitalization Steering Committee, Chair of the Grimsby Downtown Area, and member of the Niagara Region Economic Growth Strategy Committee. He lives with his wife, Trish, and children Kathryn, 14, and Finnegan,12, on Grimsby mountain.
When he first got involved in politics at the age of 23, Quirk described himself as being “gung-ho”’ for former PC premier Mike Harris’s so-called “Common Sense Revolution.” Over time, he said he came to realize that the “my way or the highway” approach to politics wasn’t all that effective.
“There is a maturity that comes with age when you are working with other people and you have to find common goals and common good,” he said.
“You can’t go into it with blinders on.”
Quirk said he didn’t want to be perceived as having negative feelings towards Oosterhoff. However, he believes the next election is going to be critical for the people of Ontario, and he said voters deserve a valid candidate and government-in- waiting. He said the changing landscape and boundaries of the riding are other reasons that constituents need an experienced politician at the helm in Niagara-West.
“Sam is enthusiastic and he has the energy, but the reality is that if we form government we need to have someone who can articulate our position strongly, someone who can advocate with a little bit of life experience, political experience and business experience, formulating our decisions,” said Quirk.
“That is where I have a background of community involvement. I have kids in the publicly funded separate school system, I have my own property, I pay property taxes, I get a hydro bill every month. I have all those little things that will allow me to appreciate the impact of the decisions I make.”
Recognizing the size of the religious community that Oosterhoff is a part of and how engaged they are politically, Quirk said he wasn’t surprised to see him earn the nomination and then Hudak’s seat. As someone who has managed and worked within campaigns in the riding and across the province, Quirk asserted that the Party considers Niagara-West [formerly Niagara West-Glanbrook] as one of their safer seats. The new boundaries will see the riding skew even more conservative than previously.
“The name on the blue sign is usually the one that gets elected,” he said.
“That is just the reality, because as much as we would like to believe differently a lot of people aren’t engaged in the process or don’t know all of the details.”
Quirk said he came to his faith as a practicing Catholic through his wife Kathryn. Endorsed by the Campaign Life Coalition as a pro-life candidate, Quirk and Oosterhoff are on the same page when it comes to a woman’s right to choose. Unlike some fellow party-member, however, Quirk said he does not allow his religious beliefs to blind him to other points of view that can help in the decision-making process. Quirk used his stance on gay marriage as an example of political pragmatism.
“This is one of those things where I diverge with the Catholic doctrine—I have no problem with gay marriage. It actually doesn’t affect me personally. I always say this for people who are still against it, I’ve been married for 17 years, and since gay marriage has been allowed for the last eight or nine years, so far I’ve not had any stress in my marriage by that, at all. Maybe that falls on the more libertarian side of things. When you try to dictate terms and legislate your idea of what people should be doing, that’s great until it’s not your people legislating.”
When asked whether he thought the riding as a whole cared about the issue, Quirk said, “I think that there’s a demographic on a certain age point that’s not [in favour],” but that most people under 60, even if otherwise conservative, understand that the world has moved on, and take a live-and-let-live approach.
Quirk said his experience in municipal and regional politics has given him a broader perspective on the needs of Niagara-West. He said he has learned to take a more inclusive approach to politics than has Oosterhoff.
“There is a necessity to listen to all your constituents once you get elected,” he said.
“You find that heavily in municipal politics because you are being elected by people that don’t care about your [political] colour. You also have to work with people of other stripes and you have to listen to their side of the story.”
Quirk said he comes to politics from a fiscal background, having worked in his family’s business for years before taking it over then selling it nearly a decade ago. His time served as a municipal politician has helped him recognize that there are things that governments need to spend money on, and that not all government is bad. It all comes down to taxing people fairly and spending their money wisely, he said.
“I don’t agree with the premise that government needs to be run like a business, because I think that there are things that a government needs to provide, that a business person would never do and never be able to do without a subsidy,” asserted Quirk.
“That’s why we have property taxes, that’s why we have income taxes. There are things that government has to do because they have to be run by people who are doing it for the benefit of the people they serve. Businesses do things for the benefit of their customers and their shareholders”.
The rising cost of hydro is a particular thorn. Quirk said that the Liberals’ sale of Hydro One and their mismanagement of the file have directly resulted in the rising cost of electricity throughout the province. He believes the privatization of Hydro One can be reversed, and is in favour of returning it to an ownership structure which allows the benefit of it to be appreciated by the people of Ontario.
“I think that there is a rationalization of salaries that needs to be done. There is no justification for a $4 million salary,” he said.
“The generation of electricity and the transmission of electricity are fundamental things that should be managed and run by government. Water, electricity, basic needs, these are things that the government should be doing for people.”
As a self-proclaimed “tech-nerd,” Quirk said he likes the concept of producing wind power, however he does not like the way the Liberals have handled their implementation into the energy grid.
“The problem with wind turbines as I see it, is that the government basically imposed them on communities that didn’t want them, to satisfy an ideological drive for green energy. That is fundamentally wrong.”
Acknowledging that steps need to be taken to slow down and mitigate the effects of climate change, Quirk said he is concerned that the strategies proposed by the Canadian government are not worthwhile because they are only a fragment of what needs to be done globally. He said he is against the idea of a carbon tax, because he feels that taxing carbon is not going to stop people from filling their cars and using the same amount of gas.
“I have no problem with taxing consumption, because the political side of me says let’s tax consumption and let’s reduce taxes on income. I like that approach…. I would rather see an investment in carbon capture technology, I would rather see an investment in reforestation of the agricultural lands that aren’t being utilized any more. I think that there’s an opportunity to have a real investment in new technologies.”
As a member of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority board, Quirk is involved in making decisions that directly impact the natural environment throughout the region. In this role, he has had to be a part of making many difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions. For instance, he was involved in the discussions leading up to the region’s controversial endorsement of using no-net-loss biodiversity offsetting as a tool to promote economic development.
“I’ve seen all of the work that we’ve done on restoration projects and I have no problem with biodiversity offsetting where it makes sense and where the wetlands are suitable” said Quirk.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion on what’s going on in Niagara Falls and it make more sense if we can do biodiversity offsetting within the current urban boundaries to alleviate the pressure on greenfield expansion, and where our biologists say it makes sense. I think that’s a good approach and I think it has to be a tool that’s available.”
He attributes much of the controversy surrounding biodiversity offsetting and the pilot project proposed for the Provincially Significant Wetland known as Thundering Waters in Niagara Falls, as stemming from current Ontario Wetland Assessment System. Because wetlands get points for being near a waterway, and for being in the Carolinian forest, he describes the system as “skewered against Niagara.”
“Almost all our waterways feed into a great lake, almost all of our vegetation is Carolinian forest, so what might be a wetland in Niagara may not be a wetland in Chatham because they don’t feed into a great lake. They don’t have Carolinian forest but they could have the exact same ecosystem,” Quirk said.
Quirk has been keeping an eye on the federal Tory leadership race. A close friend of Kelly Leitch for the past 23 years, Quirk said he supports her in her bid for the federal PC leadership but does not share Leitch’s “Canadian values” views on immigration. However he does think that the Government of Canada needs to defend human rights when welcoming new Canadians.
“There are places in the world where women aren’t allowed to vote, where gays are beheaded, where people are stoned for minor blasphemies, and if you are coming to Canada to escape that you are welcome. If you are coming here to bring that sort of thing with you, please leave it at the door,” said Quirk.
Ontario Conservatives will be developing their Party’s policies and platform at a policy conference this November. Heading into this conference, Quirk said it would be wise for the Party to have more pragmatic voices like his own at the table for these discussions.
“You need someone who has the wherewithal and experience to be able to say to the leader and the policy people, and the ministers of the day, this might not be the best approach, is there somewhere else we can look. If you don’t have someone who has demonstrated an ability to find solutions across broader ground, then you can get dismissed out-of-hand pretty easily.”
The election to nominate the party’s candidate for the new riding of Niagara-West is scheduled for March 7 at the West Lincoln Fairgrounds from 6 PM to 8 PM. Quirk says that he expects a turnout of around 2,500 party members. Results will be posted on the Voice website as soon as they are available.
Additional reporting by Dave Burket