Antonio ‘Tony’ Flores is the first Filipino to be appointed to a provincial ministry in Canada. In 2016, Dr. Eileen de Villa was appointed Chief Medical Officer for the City of Toronto.( Photo: Provided)
Updated:November 6,2018, 10:41 PM
Stricken with polio at age three, ‘Tony’ Flores overcame his disability to became the new minister for persons with disability in Alberta. Classmate Mila Bongco writes about the man she knew as a student at the University of Alberta35 years ago.
Wheel chair-bound Antonio ‘Tony’ Flores was not deterred by his disability
By Mila Bongco
To better serve Albertans with disabilities, our province proclaimed The Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act into law in June 2017 and has now named the first Advocate for Persons with Disabilities – our very own Antonio ‘Tony’ Flores who hails from Camalig, Bicol, Philippines and moved to Edmonton when he was 18 years old. This new position reports to the Minister of Community and Social Services and, according to Flores himself, will serve as the voice and active representation for concerns and issues affecting the disabilities communities.
I was so happy for Tony when this announcement was made last week. I remembered about 35 years ago when we first met at the University of Alberta. Tony was completing a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science and I had just started graduate studies on Comparative Literature. We were contemplating the future, and were cautiously optimistic, but also very realistic. Edmonton was not as diverse then as it is now. 35 years ago, and you were a female Asian or an Asian with disability, and you became very much aware of the additional challenges and difficulties ahead of you. Tony’s disability is an atrophied leg due to contacting polio when he was 3 years old. When he graduated from university, Tony weighed only 96 lbs. and yet, he did not let his disability stop him from shaping his future.
He decided to get stronger and was working out at the university gym when he met some wheelchair athletes who got him interested in para-sports. Soon, Tony took up wheelchair racing. This changed his life — he became more and more serious with para-sports and ended up competing in elite levels and national competitions. In addition to wheelchair racing, Tony competed locally and internationally in para-Nordic skiing, and he also became a member of the national team for para-canoeing.
Even as Tony had to devote a lot of time to training, he always found time to do something for others.
Once, when Tony was competing in Oita Wheelchair Marathon in Japan, he saw some Filipino para-athletes and made a point to meet them. Tony was surprised to see their very calloused hands; the wheels in their chairs were made from wood, as they did not have access to the latest technology for wheelchair racing. Tony started collecting used wheelchair equipment and accessories to donate to para-athletes in the Philippines and he also personally donated one of his wheelchairs to Peru.
Despite the demands of training as an athlete on a national level, Tony volunteered in many non-profit organizations. He was active in the International Wheelchair Foundation based in Calgary that provided equipment as well as training programmes for athletes from Tahanang Walang Hagdan back in the Philippines. More recently, he was a member of the Board of Directors for Alberta Sport Connect, advocating for equal opportunities for para-athletes. He has also served as the Director General for the Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award for eight Paralympic Games. Tony also took the time to mentor other athletes with disabilities, both locally and internationally – for example, China and the Philippines, to name a few countries.
All through the 35 years I have known Tony, he has impressed me with his zeal and determination not only to improve his lot but at the same time, to help many others as well. He is consistent in being kind and caring which is a reflection of the kindness and generosity his parents have shown to me and many others as well. Tony is the eighth of nine children from Tony and Teresita “Tita” Flores. When she was still alive, Nanay Tita had always been welcoming to newcomers in Edmonton. She was very generous with her time and her cooking, feeding poor students like me, and other newcomers who did not have families here. Tony’s dad did not say much but was just as hospitable and helpful. He was principled and upright, and doled out advice one could rely on.
The weekend before the announcement, Tony dropped by our backyard for our last bonfire of the season. True to his generous self, he picked up the tab for the pizza. On a warm October evening with lights from the flames flickering across his face, Tony talked about his dreams for this new position, plans for new programmes, the variety of ways their office could reach out to the community, how he could be most effective and best represent the community he has signed up to empower. Nothing about how many staff he will have, how big his office will be, what entitlements he should get.
I feel that from his parents, Tony has deeply learned solid, old-fashioned Filipino core values like respect, generosity, integrity, and love of family and community and he now incorporates these values into his passion and conviction to be of assistance to people with impairments. The resilience and discipline he acquired in sports completes the equation for a true tireless and caring advocate. Alberta is lucky to have Tony Flores as the first Advocate for Persons with Disabilities, and as Filipinos, we can be proud to have an honorable, determined, and credible kababayan to be honoured with this position.