Steven John Fletcher
2004 federal election
|Preceded by||John Harvard|
|Born||June 17, 1972
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Steven John Fletcher, PC, MP (born June 17, 1972) is a Canadian politician. He has served in the Canadian House of Commons since 2004, representing the riding of Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia as a member of the Conservative Party. He is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House of Commons, as well as in Cabinet. Fletcher was appointed as Minister of State (Democratic Reform) on October 30, 2008.
Fletcher was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where his Canadian father was working as an engineer. He was raised in Manitoba, and attended Shaftesbury High School in Winnipeg. Fletcher received a degree in Geological Engineering from the University of Manitoba in 1995.
He became a complete quadriplegic in 1996, after hitting a moose with his vehicle while travelling to a geological engineering job in northern Manitoba. The accident left him completely paralysed below the neck, and he now requires 24-hour-a-day attendant care. He was unable to speak for several months, and only regained this ability after a long process of recovery.
In the immediate aftermath of his accident, Fletcher was told that he would have to spend the rest of his life in an institution. Years later, he joked: "I don't think the doctors ever thought the institution would be Parliament." When asked about his disability during his first campaign for public office, he quipped: "I would rather be paralyzed from the neck down than from the neck up."
Before his accident, Fletcher was a wilderness canoe enthusiast. He served as president of the Manitoba Recreational Canoeing Association, was a two-time former Manitoba Kayak Champion, and competed in national events. He was able to resume his life as an outdoorsman in the mid-2000s through inventions such as the TrailRider, which allows quadriplegics to travel over rough terrain. In late 2004, he was able to stand again with the assistance of an hydraulic wheelchair. He recently competed in water races, and has won awards using "sip and puff" steering technology. In 2006, he visited the Burgess Shale in the Rocky Mountains with the help of a TrailRider and other hikers.
Fletcher has said that the accident changed his political views. He acknowledges that he "didn't give the less-fortunate any consideration" before 1996, but now describes himself as a "compassionate conservative".
Fletcher returned to the University of Manitoba in 1997 to take a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. He was elected president of the University of Manitoba Students' Union (UMSU) in February 1999, and identified his main priorities as improving the university's public profile and increasing access for students in financial need. He also called for greater university access for disabled students and for higher aboriginal enrollment. In October 1999, he met with federal Finance Minister Paul Martin to lobby for increased student funding.
Fletcher's political views often put him at odds with other campus organizations during much of his tenure, and he was sometimes accused of administrative bias against left-wing groups. In early 2000, he supported a decision by student council to freeze university funding for The Manitoban, a campus newspaper with a left-leaning editorial board. He argued that the issue at stake was one of financial accountability, although his opponents suggested he was trying to infringe on the paper's autonomy. Funding was restored when the newspaper staff agreed to accept an Ombudsman Board.
Fletcher was elected as a director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations during his first term. He was re-elected student body president in 2000, and presided over the elimination of the UMSU's debt in May 2000. He credited a partnership with Starbucks for much of the council's $43,000 surplus.
In late 2000, Fletcher announced that he would seek the Progressive Conservative nomination for a provincial by-election in Tuxedo. Some of his opponents later tried to remove him as student president, arguing that such partisan activity was inappropriate for someone elected to represent the interests of all students. Fletcher argued that the university's constitution did not prevent him from participating in provincial politics, and described his opponents as "far left extremists". He lost the provincial nomination to Heather Stefanson. His opponents in the Graduate Students Association later voted to separate from the UMSU, although the University of Manitoba refused to sanction the separation.
Near the end of 2000, Fletcher endorsed a report from the right-wing Fraser Institute which suggested that Canada would have to end university union contracts and professorial tenure to retain bright young academics. He was quoted as saying: "There is merit. You'd have to break the union, I would guess."
During the 2001 student election campaign, Fletcher, with the assistance of Colleen Bready (UMSU vice-president) and a Security Services officer, performed an unannounced search of several student group offices. The affected groups included the Graduate Students' Association, the Womyn's Centre, Amnesty International, the U of M Recycling Group (UMREG), the Rainbow Pride Mosaic, and the Manitoban. Fletcher and Bready said they had been "made aware of a suspicion" that campaign materials were being stored in the student group offices in violation of UMSU election bylaws. The search was condemned by other campus groups, with UMREG coordinator Rob Altemeyer describing Fletcher's actions as "completely inappropriate". Fletcher defended his actions, saying: "It's UMSU space. We have the authority and the right to check [student organization] space at any time." Bready said they felt warranted since a slate of candidates had already been found guilty earlier in the week of using the Graduate Students' Association office for campaign activities.
In March 2001, Fletcher called for a central co-ordination body to oversee Manitoba's universities, arguing that the province "is too small to have five universities offering the same thing". He opposed the provincial government's 2001 decision to build a new university in northern Manitoba. Fletcher finished his second and final term as student president in May 2001, and received his MBA in 2002.
Fletcher was elected president of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba in November 2001, and was re-elected in 2003. His relationship with party leader Stuart Murray was sometimes fractious. Fletcher criticized Murray in 2002 for hiring discredited advisor Taras Sokolyk without informing him, and suggested that Murray had not taken sufficient action to improve the state of the party's finances.
After Fletcher's election as party president, Manitoba Public Insurance announced that it would no longer provide travel expenses for his personal assistant. A representative for MPI argued that attending party functions was not a prerequisite for Fletcher's stated career goal of becoming an elected politician, and indicated that the fund was not legally required to pay for these activities. Fletcher appealed this decision before the Manitoba Court of Appeal, hiring former New Democratic Party cabinet minister Sidney Green as his attorney. In May 2003, the Court of Appeal ruled that MPI has the discretion to fund such activities under Section 138 of the MPI Act, but is not obliged to use this discretion. He later tried to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, but the court twice declined to hear his case. Fletcher filed a lawsuit against former provincial cabinet minister Becky Barrett in September 2003, arguing that she had "maliciously" interfered in his legal battles.
In late 2003, Fletcher defeated Don Murdock to win the Canadian Alliance nomination in Charleswood—St. James for the 2004 federal election. He later supported the merger of the Canadian Alliance with the more centrist Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, and endorsed Stephen Harper's bid to lead the merged Conservative Party of Canada in early 2004. Fletcher's Alliance nomination was rendered void by the merger, and he was required to contest another nomination for the new party. He defeated Murdock a second time, and was declared the riding's Conservative Party candidate in March 2004.
Fletcher defeated star Liberal candidate Glen Murray, a popular former Mayor of Winnipeg, by 734 votes in the 2004 election. His victory was considered an upset, although polls before election day indicated the result would be close. The Liberal Party won a minority government nationally, and Fletcher was named as Senior Health Critic in the Official Opposition.
Fletcher is the first Member of Parliament (MP) in Canadian history with a permanent disability. A running joke during his first campaign was that he would have to be a front bench MP, as the backbenches are not wheelchair-accessible. His election created the need for a "stranger to the House" — a person who is not officially an MP or officer of Parliament — in this case, his aide, to actually be on the floor of the Commons during sessions.
The Parliament buildings had to be adapted to accommodate Fletcher. In Ottawa, Fletcher has advocated for community living, the integration of physically or mentally challenged individuals into society. He has said, “Community living is better for the individual for sure, better for their families, and in most cases—not all—it’s better on the taxpayer too.”
As Conservative Health Critic, Fletcher described himself as a supporter of the Canada Health Act but also indicated a willingness to permit greater private-sector involvement. He suggested that the government is "notorious for stifling innovation", and argued that the private sector should not be "pigeonholed like doctors who tried to pigeonhole me". Liberal Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh responded by arguing that the Conservative position would jeopardize the principles of the Canada Health Act.
On April 20, 2005, the House of Commons supported Fletcher's Motion to compensate all Canadians who were infected with Hepatitis C by the Canadian Red Cross as a result of its failure to test blood samples. This was a major development in a decade-long struggle to have the pre-1986 and post-1990 Hepatitis C victims included in a federal compensation package. A compensation funding package was announced in 2006.
The following month, Fletcher became involved in a controversy unrelated to his parliamentary duties. On May 21, 2005, he apologized for saying "The Japs were bastards" at a veterans' convention in Winnipeg the previous week, in reference to Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. He defended the general intent of his remarks, noting that his grandfather had witnessed the Japanese army commit atrocities when he was taken as a prisoner of war after the fall of Singapore. He also acknowledged that he used "language that was inappropriate".
In November 2005, Fletcher and New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin endorsed a motion to minimize trans-fats in the Canadian food supply. A task force to investigate the issue of trans-fats was subsequently struck, and provided recommendations to the government in 2007.
Fletcher was re-elected with an increased majority in the 2006 federal election, as the Conservatives won a minority government nationally. After the election, he was appointed as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Health and the minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario.
Fletcher supported Sam Katz's bid for re-election as Mayor of Winnipeg in 2006. In late 2006, he assisted Liberal MP Andy Scott in presenting a motion for a national strategy on the treatment of persons with autism. He received a 2006 Champion of Mental Health Award.
Fletcher has received awards for community involvement, including a special award from the National Cancer Leadership Forum for advocating a national cancer strategy. He has also received the Courage and Leadership Award from the Canadian Cancer Society, and was inducted into the Terry Fox Hall of Fame on November 13, 2006.
Fletcher has advocated for embryonic stem cell research using embryos that would otherwise be discarded from in-vitro fertilization techniques. He stated on CBC's The National " I would ask this question. A Canadian who finds themselves with a terrible ailment or a loved one with a terrible ailment and there is a cure that is derived by embryonic stem cell research, would they deny their loved one or themselves that cure because of the source of the cure? Most Canadians would say please, cure me."
In March 2007, Fletcher began a campaign to have Ottawa's taxi service improve its wheelchair accessibility. There is a book written by Linda McIntosh, a former Member of the Legislative Assembly in Manitoba, about Fletcher’s life entitled What Do You Do If You Don't Die? released in December 2008. Further information on the book can be found at http://www.thestevenfletcherstory.ca.
After being elected for a third time in the 2008 federal election, Fletcher was appointed as Minister of State for Democratic Reform on October 30, 2008. Fletcher is the first person in history with a permanent disability to be named to the Canadian cabinet. At the time of his appointment, he was quoted saying “I would pinch myself if I could.”
|Canadian federal election, 2008|
|New Democrat||Fiona Shiells||7,190||17.9%|
|Christian Heritage||Mark Price||180||0.4%|
|Total valid votes||40,104||100.00%|
|Total rejected ballots||136|
|2006 federal election : Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia edit|
|New Democratic Party||Dennis Kshyk||5,669||12.81||$1,977.65|
|Total valid votes||44,259||100.00|
|Total rejected ballots||157|
|Electors on the lists||63,517|
|2004 federal election : Charleswood—St. James edit|
|New Democratic Party||Peter Carney||4,283||10.15||$6,030.25|
|Total valid votes||42,191||100.00|
|Total rejected ballots||109|
|Electors on the lists||64,627|
All electoral information is taken from Elections Canada. Italicized expenditures refer to submitted totals, and are presented when the final reviewed totals are not available.