OttawaWatch: Steven Fletcher's story

By Lloyd Mackey

A BIT of housekeeping, before talking about The Steven Fletcher Story: What Do You Do If You Don't Die.

During the next few weeks, I will have opportunities here to talk about federal politics and the current election campaign. One will be OttawaWatch, the other, election reporting appearing in one of the quadrants in the same sector of this website.

The first piece in that pre-election series talks, among other things, about Elizabeth May and organically-grown pumpkins.

* * *

"On October 4, 2004, Steven Fletcher MP from Charleswood-St James-Assiniboia, wheeled into the House of Commons Chamber and into the history books. As the 38th Canadian Parliament began its first and only session, he became the first C4 quadriplegic ever elected to Parliament."

That quote begins Chapter 29 of a gripping new biography by former Manitoba cabinet minister Linda McIntosh. The Steven Fletcher Story, published by Heartland Books of Winnipeg, is a tightly and warmly written chronicle of Fletcher's life. It includes a vivid and wrenching description of the night he became paralyzed. He had swerved his car to avoid hitting a calf moose crossing the highway, only to be struck by a giant moose following closely behind.

The subtitle of the book -- 'What To Do If You Don't Die' -- puts it nicely. And what Fletcher has accomplished is more than remarkable, given the fact that, from the time that moose struck his car, he has been paralyzed from the neck down.

Having chatted with him several times since he became a Conservative MP, I have come to learn that his thinking and feelings about God, his relationship to his church (Charleswood United) and the fellowship he enjoys with other Christians are all important parts of what he is.

In particular, the references in the book to questions of spiritual significance are profound, yet understated. His is not a testimony to the performance of great miracles per se.

It is an honest assessment of both his faith and his doubts -- the despair he has experienced at times, along with the relationships and ponderings that buoy him up and drive him to what he has achieved.

The best known of his achievements has been his election to the House of Commons and appointment as parliamentary secretary to Health Minister Tony Clement. But, post-accident, he returned to the University of Manitoba where he had received a bachelor's degree in geological engineering. There, he earned his masters in business administration and served as the UM student president. Later, he became the youngest-ever president of the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives.

At the time the Reform Party was developing, he took an interest in the candidacy of one Mark Hughes, a man who held degrees in agriculture and theology. Hughes ran second to a Liberal in that contest, but his intelligence and credibility caught the attention of the young Fletcher.

Continue article >>

Today, as it happens, Hughes is the pastor of Church of the Rock in Winnipeg, a multi-site congregation.

But it was the man's ability to relate his faith to the political scene that, among other things, impressed the energetic quadriplegic.

Two other people are mentioned in the book, as impacting his spiritual quests -- both of them personal aides who, as it happens, are serious Christian believers. One was Melissa Anderson (now Thiessen), who left her work with Fletcher at the time of her marriage.

Thiessen spent two years in Christian service overseas, leading Christian teams to both India and Africa.

"At the Mother Theresa homes in India, I think I really learned about putting others' needs before mine, letting my wants go for a time and focusing on others. My faith gives me courage to believe that God has called us all to do something great for his glory."

The other, who now manages his personal aide team, James Montgomery, has a similar sense of calling in the work he does with Fletcher.

"Everything in my life seems to have been to prepare me to understand and serve Steven," he suggests. "The only thing that I had not done was to become politically active, but even that seems to have been a plus, because I can stay calm in the middle of a political storm, which Steven's attendants need to be able to do."

A most poignant reflection occurs when Fletcher talks about not remembering the ambulance trip from the scene of the accident to a hospital in Winnipeg.

Writes author McIntosh: "Most of the details of that day have been filed away in the deepest recesses of his mind and to this day he cannot bring them forward, nor does he ever want to. The bits and pieces of memory that have drifted through are enough to persuade him that forgetting can, on occasion, be the gift of a merciful God."

In a closing retrospective, he suggests:

I know the potential that was mine at birth will never be fulfilled and I miss the future that could have been. I try not to say 'if only; or 'what if?' but truthfully I can't always keep such thoughts away. It's hard to be consistently positive and count my blessings. Once, when I was talking about this with Liisa [a close friend and constituent] and wondering what possible purpose a life like mine could have, she told me 'Steven, your life isn't all about you or what you want. What can you do for others' she sort of took me aback a bit, but when I thought about it, I felt she had some wisdom in her statement. Who knows what purpose a life like mine serves?
* * *

Lloyd Mackey is a member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery in Ottawa and author of Stephen Harper: The Case for Collaborative Governance (ECW Press, 2006). He can be reached at

September 11/2008