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 tetraplegic, 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
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
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
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.”