As the first Paralympian ever elected to Canada’s parliament, there was a certain symmetry in Carla Qualtrough being named Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities.
But that didn’t stop the rookie MP for Delta being “over the moon excited” when she found out about her new position.
“I had hopes, it wasn’t completely out of left field,” she admits.
Liberal candidate Carla Qualtrough elected in Delta
“But you get called to Ottawa, and you meet with the Prime Minister, and he tells you the two things that matter most to you in the world, you get to help be involved in those on a national level?” she says.
Qualtrough, who defeated Conservative cabinet minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay in October’s election, says she’s excited about the possibilities in her portfolio.
“On the disability side we have chance to make history,” she says.
“We’re going to make new laws. Who gets to say that in their career? It’s an amazing experience.”
Qualtrough, who has been visually impaired since birth, said the choice to transition from being a competitive swimmer—where she won three bronze medals in the Paralympic Games—to a human rights lawyer was more natural than it might seem.
“As someone with a disability who loved sport, and grew up in a family where we spoke the language of sport, at some point regular sport became too difficult. My vision caught up with me, and I found Paralympic sport, and it changed my world. It also exposed me to discrimination, and to travelling around the world and seeing how people with disabilities are treated elsewhere was quite an eye-opener, and it sparked my interest in human rights,” she says.
Qualtrough says she hopes to enact a new national strategy for disabled Canadians.
“You have to wait until people are discriminated against until you can help them. So we’re going to try and fix that. We’re going to put in place some kind of legal framework that obligates employers or service providers to accommodate and provide access and inclusion instead of waiting for someone with a disability to take them on,” she says.
On the sport front, Qualtrough says the expanding conversation on concussions is likely to occupy her time.
“We need to develop a national concussion strategy,” she says.
“We need to provide the federal leadership that’s been lacking to develop a comprehensive strategy on prevention, treatment, return to play protocol…there’s going to have to be a huge culture shift, in terms of making it okay to talk about concussions, making it okay for coaches to bench an athlete.”
One thing is certain: Qualtrough is aware of the high hopes people have for her.
“Both the disability community and sport community are expecting big things from me,” she says.