Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/10/2016 (1935 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A shaken Steven Fletcher said he was "blindsided" when Speaker Myrna Driedger ruled Monday afternoon that the MLA’s inability to access the entire chamber in his motorized wheelchair is not a violation of his parliamentary privileges.
"It was a surprise — there was no warning," Fletcher told reporters. "I was blindsided."
Fletcher tabled a motion in late June charging that his inability to access the entire legislature chamber violates his privileges.
"He can participate in the proceedings from his seat," Driedger told the legislature in a lengthy ruling Monday afternoon. Her ruling was immediately challenged.
Fletcher has a desk, specialized equipment, an aide, and is able to take part in debate, move motions, and vote, Driedger ruled.
Fletcher challenged her ruling. With Fletcher needing the support of three MLAs to get a vote on the challenge, NDP Wab Kinew immediately stood, along with Tories Nicolas Curry, Andrew Smith, Kelly Bindle, and Alan Lagimodiere.
After a lengthy delay, Tories voted in unison to back the Speaker. The NDP and Liberal minority voted with Fletcher.
Fletcher said it’s been "sacrosanct" since the days of Oliver Cromwell in the mid-1600s that, "You cannot obstruct a parliamentarian from doing his work."
Fletcher said he had a human rights ruling from 1997 he wanted to hand out Monday to support his position, but he could physically only reach the back row of MLAs, and legislative pages are not allowed to deliver such handouts.
"If I wasn’t in this physical situation, I could have handed them out myself," Fletcher said. "I was stymied — this goes to the whole issue of privilege."
Driedger had spent the summer studying Fletcher’s motion.
"I am only dealing strictly on whether there is a prima facie case," said Driedger, who also told the legislature that more work on accessibility must be done.
Driedger said she continues to explore the feasibility of a lift or of raising the floor, while taking the building’s heritage and building codes into consideration.
"I do not want anyone to take from this ruling that, as the Speaker, I am satisfied with the current physical layout of the chamber as it does not provide complete accessibility to a member, a staff member or a member of the public who use motorized devices. This is simply not acceptable in 2016," said Driedger.
Premier Brian Pallister said outside the house that making the chamber accessible will be expedited.
"The speaker had a well-reasoned ruling. It’s important to recognize and respect that. At the same time, of course, recognizing Steven Fletcher faces more challenges in five minutes in the morning than most people get in a month," said Pallister.
The premier said he did not tell his caucus to support the Speaker, including those who initially stood to support Fletcher: "No, they were supporting the right that he (Fletcher) has to call for a vote and did."
Fletcher said that installing what he dismissed as ugly, noisy, unreliable lifts beside the Speaker’s chair would be absurd, but believes the floor can be raised to the level of the entrances, or other changes made physically. The ramp at the front entrance to the building installed under former NDP premier Gary Doer did not destroy the heritage of the building, he said, and argued that any heritage aspect promoting exclusion is not worth preserving.
New Democrat MLA Nahanni Fontaine said in an interview that the NDP has always supported people with disabilities and urged the legislature to move quickly to make the chamber accessible: "He’s not going to be the last member to have disabilities," she said.