Member of Parliament (Conservative) for Charleswood-St. James Assiniboia, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Steven Fletcher, the son of a Canadian mining engineer, was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1972. He followed in his father’s profession: He completed his engineering degree from the University of Manitoba and worked as a mining engineer in Northern Manitoba at the Bissett Gold Mine.
Fletcher’s career path seemed set until a fateful automobile collision with a moose in 1996 left him a C3 – 4 quadriplegic, wheelchair-dependent, and with a new cause and course.
Fletcher had served his community since his high school days. Now, his accident, hospitalization and rehabilitation polarized his perceptions of healthcare and quality of life issues, and significantly, reawakened his political activism.
Before his injury, he hadn’t thought much about public policy or disability issues. Going through the healthcare “recovery system” forced Fletcher to recognize what he refers to as “society’s contradiction.”
Fletcher has stated, “On the one hand we ‘save’ or extend the lives of individuals and then we do not provide the resources to help these individuals, young or old, to have a reasonable quality of life. This contradiction is what initiated my first major political initiatives. In particular, I focused on Manitoba Public Insurance to insure that they meet their mission statement: ‘Bring the quality of life of a victim as much as practical to the level it was before the accident.’”
Ten years later, Fletcher is still in court battles with Manitoba Public Insurance, fighting for funding to live a normal life and the right to be in politics. Due to pushing the envelope of what has traditionally been possible, Fletcher has encountered a lot of institutional inertia due to the old style of thinking about what a person with a disability can accomplish.
Fletcher returned to the University of Manitoba for his masters of business administration (MBA) degree, and became involved in the student movement and provincial politics. He was elected president of the student body, and based on his accomplishments, was re-elected for a second term as president of the University of Manitoba Student’s Union. He served as member of the board of directors of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations; completed his MBA; and received his professional manager designation (P. Mgr.) and chartered manager designation (F.CIM.) from the Canadian Institute of Management.
Fletcher broadened his goals and became more involved in provincial politics to serve the complete community – which includes issues going far beyond healthcare or disability issues. In a highly contested election, he became president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba in November 2001. At age 29, he was the youngest person ever to hold this office, and the first with quadriplegia.
In 2003 Fletcher was instrumental in bringing the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties together into the union that is now the Conservative Party of Canada. Fletcher was nominated as a candidate for the Conservatives for the 2004 provincial elections, and on June 28 of that year, was elected as the federal member of parliament for the Charleswood-St. James riding in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He made history as the first person with a permanent disability to be elected to the House of Commons in Canada, and was re-elected for a second term in January 2006 in the new riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia..
Fletcher’s disability has not been a hindrance to himself in his work, though it has created awareness of the needs for accommodation and access for people with disabilities in Ottawa. He recalls a lunch function at the British High Commission in 2004, when his hosts found out that their building was not wheelchair-accessible. Of note, Fletcher reports that things are changing and becoming more accessible.
“I don’t have a view per say [on any influence the disability may have on doing the job]. I conduct myself as if I didn’t have a disability. Of course there are some obvious differences; I am in a power wheelchair; I have an aide with me 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But I focus on my role as a member of parliament and fulfill those duties and meet the expectations and often exceed the expectations of the people who elected me.
“I love what I do. I really enjoyed helping the people of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia, and all Canadians, and I was very fortunate to have the position of senior health critic in the last Parliament, at a time when the healthcare debate is so important. . I am honored to be appointed by Prime Minister Harper as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health. Since the cabinet is small, I can have a major influence on health policy in Canada.
“In addition, I am very much looking forward to being the parliamentary secretary for the Minister of the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario. I enjoy dealing with the economic side of government. There is a lot of interaction between Manitoba and Northern Ontario, and I look forward to increasing economic opportunities for both provinces.”
Fletcher’s key for successfully running for public office: “Make sure you represent the people who elected you. My views on the world are by and large consistent with the majority of the citizens of my riding. I represent my riding to Ottawa, and not Ottawa to my riding.”
Fletcher’s reflections on a political life: “For anyone entering politics, the rewards and personal satisfaction of the position are significant; the risks are extraordinarily high. So make sure you have a balanced life, because politics can be all consuming.”