Steven Fletcher didn't see it coming.
Up until Monday morning he was the minister of state for transport in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet and then suddenly, he was out. In an interview Wednesday, Fletcher said he was caught by surprise when he was dumped during Harper's major shuffle that saw eight new MPs appointed and a long list of portfolios change hands.
"What can you do?" he asked.
Fletcher said he understands Harper wanted more women in cabinet. Shelly Glover and Candice Bergen, both Manitoba MPs like him, were among the four new women added to the roster. Harper also dropped two women from cabinet, Senator Marjory LeBreton and Diane Ablonczy.
First elected in 2004, Fletcher has had a role in the shadow cabinet or ministry since he arrived on Parliament Hill. He was parliamentary secretary for health at one point, then minister of state for democratic reform, then was given the transport role in 2011.
Now that he's out of cabinet, he finds himself with a lot more time on his hands.
"I'm going to make an effort to be far more accessible to constituents, to people in Ottawa, to the media," Fletcher said.
Fletcher will stay on message
The MP for a riding in Winnipeg said he has specifically asked not to be named a parliamentary secretary or committee chair and he doesn't even want to be part of MP junkets. He wants to use his new-found freedom to talk about the things he cares about: infrastructure, mining, energy distribution, and Canadian history.
What he won't do is become the next Brent Rathgeber — in other words, an Independent MP, comfortable with criticizing the government on a variety of topics. Rathgeber recently quit the Conservative caucus in part because of his frustration with dealing with the Prime Minister's Office and feeling like he couldn't speak his mind.
"I will use the freedom," said Fletcher, "But if people are expecting me to veer off message or go against the Conservatives, that is not going to happen."
But he said he will take the opportunity to show his sense of humour more. Something he already tested on Monday after the cabinet shuffle by tweeting: "I am Conservative. I am a traditionalist. I wish I left Cabinet in the traditional way — with a sex scandal!"
He said he'd like to get back into cabinet one day, pointing out he's only 41 and "not over yet".
Fletcher, who became a quadriplegic in 1996 after a car collision with a moose, stepped aside briefly from cabinet in January 2012 to undergo surgery to stabilize his neck. By March, he was back on the job.
But now without a cabinet position, Fletcher is determined to find a way to keep contributing to the debate and stay involved.
"I've got a lot of stuff I've worked on in the past, that for lots of reasons, hit a road block. I intend to pursue those things now."
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