Carla Qualtrough is sworn in as Minister of Public Works and Procurement during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Carla Qualtrough is sworn in as Minister of Public Works and Procurement during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

B.C. MP ‘swimming the laps’ in new cabinet role

Delta’s Carla Qualtrough jumps into new challenge as minister for public services and procurement

Carla Qualtrough wanted to go water skiing.

There was no question in her mind that, despite having been born with a visual impairment, she’d be able to accomplish her goal — but she knew it would take creativity. So, with the young Qualtrough standing ready on the dock, her father would start singing as he began pulling away in the boat.

READ MORE: Carla Qualtrough says Rio Paralympics face challenges, but legacy will be significant

READ MORE: Catching up with Carla Qualtrough

That way, Qualtrough knew that when he reached a certain lyric in the song, it was time for her to jump off, stand up and begin to ski along the surface.

It took a few tries to get the timing right, said Ana Arciniega, the executive director at the Delta Gymnastics Society, in Delta, of the story Qualtrough shared the first time they met.

There was no fretting over her disability, Arciniega recalled, just coming up with a plan — like counting the strokes while swimming to avoid hitting her head on the wall — to deal with it on the way to doing what she set out to do.

“I really think that shaped who she is, because she is obviously not afraid of big challenges,” Arciniega said.

Now, she’s jumping into another one.

After being the minister of sport and persons with disabilities — a natural fit for a legally blind human rights lawyer who won three medals for swimming at the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games — Qualtrough, 45, has taken on a bigger role, this time as minister for public services and procurement.

The massive and complex portfolio, which follows the decision by longtime Liberal MP Judy Foote to leave politics, includes major political challenges like resolving the Phoenix payroll system fiasco and overseeing major military procurement projects.

Anne Merklinger, chief executive officer of Own the Podium, was impressed by how much Qualtrough was able to cross off her checklist in her short time as sports minister.

“It is all about, as she would say, swimming the laps,” said Merklinger.

Those in the disability community, meanwhile, were thrilled to have, for the first time ever, a cabinet minister devoted to their cause — and one of them, to boot.

“She is of our people,” said Bonnie Brayton, the national executive director of DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) Canada.

She remembered a time last year, soon after the Liberal government passed its doctor-assisted death legislation, when Qualtrough showed she was listening to people living with disabilities who feared being pressured into making a difficult choice.

“We were all in a sombre mood and concerned about what might happen next,” said Brayton. “And her presence and her reassurances that she would stand by us and keep us safe was important to everybody.”

David Lepofsky, a lawyer and disability advocate, said he was happy to see Qualtrough aim high as she began crafting a promised accessibility law, which would govern banks, telecommunications, interprovincial transportation and other areas under federal jurisdiction.

“She said the core of this legislation has to be employment for people with disabilities,” said Lepofsky, adding that she made it clear she understood a jobs program was not enough.

“You can’t get effective employment for people unless you tear down the barriers to education, transportation and all the other barriers they face,” he said.

James Hicks, national co-ordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said even though Qualtrough no longer has the disability file, he thinks she will continue to champion the issue at her new department.

“We have been pushing for (them) to use their spending power in order to encourage provinces and territories to become more accessible,” Hicks said.

Qualtrough, who was first elected as the Liberal MP for Delta, B.C., in 2015, was born to Harry, a salesman, and Pat Qualtrough, a collections agent, in Calgary, before moving to Langley, B.C. at a young age.

The warmth and love she has for her childhood and her family, including her parents, who separated when she was 14 years old, and her brother, Kevin, reverberates through the messages she has left in the online condolence book memorializing her father, who died in 2007.

“I finally found the right guy, Dad, and I got two wonderful children in the deal,” she wrote in 2009, referring to her husband, Eron Main, a widower, and his son, Isaac, 19, and daughter Susan, 17.

A few years later, she wrote of the birth of her daughter, Jessica, who is now seven: “She’s a Qualtrough through and through — with a twinkle in her eye and a spontaneous smile on her face.”

Of their son Matthew, who is now four, she crowed: “I finally have my sport kid.”

She described her youngest two as being able to jump off the dock without hesitation.

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Town of Qualicum Beach council will charge the St. Andrews Lodge Historical and Cultural Society for power and heat for the historic lodge. (PQB News file photo)
Society to pay electric bills for historic St. Andrews Lodge in Qualicum Beach

Group will not have access to building until lease is formally signed

A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits Nanoose Bay property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury

The section of Highway 19A between Laburnum Road and Goodyear Road was closed to traffic due to a single vehicular accident. (DriveBC illustration)
Section of highway closed after vehicle hits pole near Qualicum Beach

Traffic disrupted for hours; two people taken to hospital

Joan LeMoine. (Peter McCully photo)
OPINION: Joan LeMoine represented the very best in all of us

Beloved Parksville area volunteer left an indelible mark on the community

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Randy Brown, owner of Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue, has five trailers and a motorhome at the back of his property that he is renting to people who had been previously homeless. He wants to put 15 trailers on his property, hooked up to city sewer and water and BC Hydro. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Alberni building owner digs in, refuses to remove illegal trailers

Port Alberni council gives owner two-week reprieve on remediation orders

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Most Read