Parliamentary Relatives: Across the Table from “Uncle Ernie”
In 1952, Aris and Arisje Hardeman, accompanied by 14 children and pregnant with a 15th, emigrated from Holland and settled in Southwestern Ontario. One of their sons went on to be elected as the Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) representing the very riding in which they arrived. One of their daughters went on to raise another eventual MPP.
First elected in 1995, Ernie Hardeman has held the riding of Oxford through six subsequent elections. His nephew, John Vanthof, was elected in the Northern Ontario riding of Timiskaming—Cochrane in 2011. While it is not entirely unusual for uncles and nephews to serve simultaneously in legislatures, the case of Hardeman and Vanthof is unique for many reasons. Most notably, they represent two very different parties, with Hardeman being a Progressive Conservative (PC) and Vanthof representing the New Democratic Party (NDP).
Their interventions in the House and committees are sometimes interrupted with light-hearted heckles poking fun at their family ties. A PC Member once interrupted Vanthof’s speech saying: “I’m with Uncle Ernie on this.” When Hardeman spoke in a committee clause-by-clause, one New Democrat said: “I believe that Mr. Hardeman has been listening to his nephew in the NDP caucus because I agree with everything he just said.” Mr. Hardeman replied: “I want to thank the member for recognizing the fact that my nephew John has learned well from his uncle.”
Having served together for a decade, the cordiality inherent from their family ties has seeped into the tone of both caucuses. Vanthof’s NDP caucus colleagues have taken to respectfully calling Hardeman “Uncle Ernie,” including when he was congratulated for getting a bill passed with multi-party support. Their continued contributions serve as a reminder that dialogue can be respectful despite the differences of partisanship and views across our tables.
Collections and Acquisitions Librarian, Legislative Assembly of Ontario