POLITICS

Nova Scotia legislature elects first paraplegic to serve as Speaker

10/24/2013 05:50 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
HALIFAX - Kevin Murphy made history Thursday when he became the first paraplegic to serve as the Speaker of the Nova Scotia legislature, an accomplishment he says sends a message that people can overcome physical disabilities to achieve anything.

Murphy, who became paralyzed after suffering an injury in a hockey game at the age of 14, was elected to the role two weeks after winning his Halifax-area riding of Eastern Shore in the provincial election.

"It really shows that people regardless of their level of physical disability can do anything at all," he said outside the legislative chambers after he was elected.

The 43-year-old, who was an entrepreneur before running for the Liberals, described himself as a typical "all-Canadian kid" whose early life centred around hockey. He said that changed when he slipped and fell during a game in March 1985, cracking the fifth vertebrae in his neck. He was instantly paralyzed.

Murphy credited his parents for how he has approached life since his accident.

"The values were instilled in me that anything is possible," he said. "I'm just the same as everybody else. I just happen to use a wheelchair."

Moments after he was confirmed Speaker, Murphy thanked the members of the house in an impromptu speech.

"We'll work together and we'll keep an air of decorum here and a spirit of co-operation with the best interests of the people of Nova Scotia at heart," he said to applause.

Premier Stephen McNeil, who nominated Murphy to be Speaker, said he was impressed by how he worked across party lines prior to being elected to bring about changes that will see all provincial constituency offices accessible within three years.

"His impromptu speech at the end I think sums it up and should show Nova Scotians why I have so much confidence in Kevin," said McNeil.

Laurie Beachell of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said Murphy's election as Speaker demonstrates that there are plenty of talented people with disabilities who have something to contribute.

Beachell said such an appointment likely wouldn't have happened 30 years ago, but added that people with disabilities have come a long way in their fight for inclusiveness. He cited Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley, former Quebec lieutenant-governor Lise Thibault and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan as examples.

"People with disabilities expect to take their rightful place ... in our labour force, our communities and our elected and public positions," he said.

While he wore the Speaker's top hat during his confirmation ceremony, Murphy did not wear the traditional robes, an accommodation he said would have to be made because of his wheelchair.

The other change needed will be to modify the Speaker's dais, which is currently on a riser, to make it accessible.

Earlier Thursday, all 51 members of the legislature were sworn in. They include 28 newly elected members, 23 of whom are Liberals and the other five Progressive Conservatives.

The Liberals won a majority government capturing 33 seats, while the Tories won 11 and the NDP took seven.

Margaret Miller, the Liberal member for Hants East, will serve as deputy Speaker.