Canadian Paraplegic Association

Honourable senators, I am having a very interesting day. I am rather sore. I was allowed to walk in, but you may have seen a wheelchair outside. Senator Kochhar and I have been in wheelchairs since 7 o’clock this morning in an effort to raise awareness on behalf of the Canadian Paraplegic Association. I can tell you that I am more tired than I have ever been playing hockey. I am spending the day in a wheelchair to gain an understanding of what daily life is like for the more than 41,000 Canadians who live with spinal cord injuries. I have gained a new perspective. I have found out how much more time you need to get from one place to another. I know what it is like not to see eye to eye, and so does Senator Kochhar, but I discovered muscles in my upper body that I never thought existed.

I also discovered sad facts about spinal cord injuries. Every year, 1,200 new spinal cord injuries occur in this country, and 84 per cent of those happen to young people under 34 years of age. Three out of four spinal cord injuries happen to men. That is frightening for a father like me who has two sons in that range.

It is also frightening to learn that we do not have a cure for spinal cord injuries, that the unemployment rate for people with spinal cord injuries is 62 per cent and that the average cost for each injured person over the course of his or her lifetime is between $1.25 million and $25 million, depending on the injury.

There is much we need to do to find a cure for spinal cord injuries and to ensure that those who have a spinal cord injury participate fully in society. I will certainly reflect on that as I wheel my way through the rest of the day and also on what we need to do in this chamber to be more inclusive.

In the other place, modifications have been made to accommodate people in wheelchairs, such as Minister Fletcher, who was our leader today on the Hill with 35 MPs and two senators. Here in this chamber, Rick Wardell is one of the individuals who participates in the Friends of the Senate program. Rick works with our pages and is limited by what he does because this chamber cannot accommodate him in his chair. I think Rick deserves better. I think a person like Rick should be allowed to come into this chamber and deliver a message along the floor of this chamber. It is simple: Open the doors a bit wider, and of course the red carpet will not be damaged at all. I believe Rick deserves better, as do all people with spinal cord injuries.

No matter which government has been in power over the last 15 years, whether Liberal or Conservative, the funding for the Canadian Paraplegic Association has decreased from $2 million a year to $200,000. All of us — Liberals, Conservatives and independents — who know our way around the Hill know it is not about politics; it is about helping others and being made aware. For example, Minister Flaherty has been good to me with funding when it comes to the Special Olympics. That shows that Liberals and Conservatives can work together.

I will end with the thought that we can do better.