Percy Wickman, the Alberta Liberal MLA who ousted former Conservative premier Don Getty from his Edmonton riding in 1989, has died. Mr. Wickman, 63, was one of Canada's first disabled elected officials, and it was in a wheelchair that he took his seat in the Alberta Legislature.
He served as one of the few Liberal MLAs in Alberta from 1989 to 2001. His surprising victory in 1989, described as one of the biggest upsets in Alberta political history, forced then premier Don Getty to seek election in Stettler in order to lead his government in the House.
Mr. Wickman was described by current Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft as a man who worked tirelessly on disability issues, but who was never defined solely by those concerns. Mr. Wickman became a paraplegic at the age of 23 after a workplace accident damaged his spine.
"He had the magic ability to be a champion for so many causes," he said. "Although he was always fighting to overcome the obstacles faced by people with disabilities, he didn't belabour those issues one on one. He never came across as a victim, but much more as a regular person fighting for a better world."
Mr. Wickman's political career began on Edmonton City Council, where he won three terms as an alderman from 1977 to 1986 and became assistant to the mayor in 1988. A former New Democrat, he changed his allegiance in order to run for the Liberals.
His most significant contributions are seen to be the improvements to public services for the disabled in the province. Mr. Taft said he was an advocate for wheelchair transit, curb cuts and more accessibility in public buildings and public housing long before those issues gained widespread currency.
His son Ron Wickman is an award-winning architect in Alberta who has given priority to designing accessible buildings.
Mr. Wickman retired from the Alberta Legislature in 2001 after serving three full terms. He was first elected as MLA for Whitemud, before the constituency became known as Edmonton-Rutherford. At the time of his retirement he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. He was awarded the Order of Canada earlier this year.
His political career was not without controversy. He was convicted of drunk driving in 1995 after witnesses reported seeing him weaving dangerously through traffic. He did not resign his seat but was assessed a $735 fine, and his licence was suspended for one year.
After defeating Mr. Getty, Mr. Wickman said, he spent the next three weeks feeling like the Wayne Gretzky of politics.
Mr. Taft said Mr. Wickman had died of infections Saturday night related to his disability.