A person with a disability can now take his or her place in Manitoba's Legislature as Speaker, premier, senior minister or leader of the opposition — with no access barriers.

The floor of the 96-year-old chamber was lifted in a $1.45-million renovation, making the majority of the room accessible to people in wheelchairs. 

Speaker Myrna Dreidger said the renovations put Manitoba's Legislature in the forefront of accessibility across the country.

"A lot of the other Legislatures don't have this level of accessibility," Dreidger told a group of construction workers who worked on the project.

The group was in the Legislature Monday morning in advance of a ceremony officially reopening the renovated chamber. 

Not only is the space far more accessible, but the project cost less than expected.

"We came in on time and under budget, which is a delight to be able to say," project manager Lynn Selman told reporters during a tour of the chamber.

The work includes making the first and last rows of the government and opposition benches wider and a ramp allowing wheelchairs to ride on to the floor of the chamber. The chamber's sound system has been upgraded as well. 

Manitoba Legislature

Aisles behind the front benches in the chamber widen to allow access. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Initially a lift was considered as a part of the renovations, but it was seen as intrusive and noisy.

The chamber floor was raised 2.5 feet (76 cm) above its original level and rebuilt with marble taken from the same quarry used in the original construction.

The old floor, in its original condition, remains below the newly constructed surface.

Driedger said the 24 members of the Accessibility Advisory Committee working on the project unanimously approved the changes, but as recently as last year it seemed almost impossible to find a solution that would avoid using lifts and still create easy access.

'Why don't you just raise the floor?'

"Finally one day we were sitting at a committee, and again, how do we do this? We really didn't even think that it would be possible, and then one of our members on the committee said, 'why don't you do this?" Dreidger said. 

That recommendation was studied and eventually put into place. 

New Ramp

Raising the chamber floor made installing a ramp an option, instead of a noisy obtrusive lift. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

It's also what MLA Steven Fletcher wanted to see. 

Fletcher, who has had an uneasy relationship at best with his own party, and with how changes to the Legislature were happening, is the first quadriplegic MLA elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. 

Last year Fletcher said his privilege as a parliamentarian has been breached by access issues, but his appeal was voted down by the government.

On Monday, Fletcher was happy his suggestion to raise the floor was followed and said he likes the results.

"It was inexplicable to me how they could have come up with lifts ... it was just a ridiculous and expensive plan," Fletcher said, adding he is "very pleased what is happening here. It is much better."

Fletcher didn't make it to chamber reopening ceremony. He was two blocks from the Legislature in a courtroom, watching his lawyer fight the province for his right to cross the floor symbolically — to another party — if desired. 

Fletcher said as important as making the Legislature accessible for all Manitobans, his lawsuit is also a "fundamental fight."

"It was the one thing that would probably keep me away from something like this; I was in court, fighting for democracy," Fletcher said.

The fall session of the Legislature begins on Wednesday.

Renovations make Manitoba's chamber among the most accessible in Canada2:01