It’s tempting to think Conner Copeman might draw inspiration from Sam Sullivan, the former Vancouver mayor who waved the Canadian flag from his wheelchair at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
But that’s not the case for the 22-year-old Cumberland resident — himself confined to a wheelchair — who was elected to Village council in last weekend’s municipal election.
“I want to avoid a garbage strike,” quipped Copeman, a born and raised Cumberlander who narrowly claimed the fourth and final council seat. “I’m sure he (Sullivan) meant well through his politics. I’d be happy to speak to him if he gave me the time.”
A regular council attendee heading into Saturday’s election, Copeman took an interest in politics while attending Mark Isfeld Secondary School in Courtenay where he worked on a few elections and was involved with student council. The Cable Public Affairs Channel has also contributed to his political knowledge.
At age 18, shortly after graduating from high school in 2007, Copeman suffered a broken neck when he was assaulted in a park in Saskatoon, where he had worked for a security company. He underwent surgery to rebuild vertebrae but did not regain movement in his legs. He has minimal motion in his arms.
“Nothing’s the same but I’ve managed to find and maintain many interests, and I’ve kept all the friends that I had before,” he said about adjusting to life in a wheelchair. “I notice that some people distance themselves from their old lives.”
His surroundings during the rehab process helped him learn how to deal with being spinal cord injured.
“I think social is key. If you don’t have a balanced life approach you’re not going to do as well,” said Copeman, who quips that he holds a bachelor’s in “hospital bureaucracy.”
“That kind of gives me an insight that I never really thought about,” he said. “I think the determination’s always there. In some ways I guess it (life in a wheelchair) might focus the determination and prevent some distraction.”
While Cumberland “does quite well for itself” in terms of accessibility for disabled individuals, Copeman said the electorate has sent him to council to deliberate and pursue other priorities. Funding for the village sewage system, for instance, will be a major focus during his term.
“I hope that there’s some innovative way to find grants that I might be able to seek out that might not be thought of on behalf of staff and council.”
He notes an effort to engage public opinion as to how to spend recreation money if the Village receives a government grant.
“I’d rather see where that goes rather than saying this is my opinion,” Copeman said, noting the need for a “low- to no-cost initiative” for teens such as a skateboard park.
“It all comes down to money,” he said, adding a “Band-Aid project” might be in order to tide things over for a year.
Copeman’s council colleagues are incumbents Gwyn Sproule and Kate Greening, fellow newcomer Roger Kishi and acclaimed mayor Leslie Baird. The new team will be sworn in at its inaugural meeting Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m.