Longtime Manitoba politician Bill Blaikie remembered for dedication to values, family

Tributes a pouring in following news that Bill Blaikie, a longtime Manitoba New Democrat whose political career spanned more than three decades, was announced by his family over the weekend.

Blaikie, 71, died in Winnipeg on Saturday following a battle with metastatic kidney cancer, according to a Facebook post by his family.

“Bill was a giant in our party,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted on Saturday.

“His unwavering commitment to social and economic justice, his legendary knowledge of Parliament, and his sense of humour will be missed by all.”

Blaikie served as a member of Parliament from 1979 to 2008, representing Elmwood-Transcona and its former ridings in the House of Commons. He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2020 for his lifelong contributions to parliamentary service and for his steadfast commitment to progressive change and social activism.

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a former MP and MLA, says she was lucky enough to know Blaikie from the very start of her political career: He taught her how to be true to herself in a turbulent political world.

Blaikie towered above her, not just physically but with his values, she says.

“I felt small beside him, but loved [when I was] with him,” Wasylycia-Leis said in a Sunday interview with CBC. “I knew [his death] was coming, but it’s still heartbreaking.”

Blaikie was someone who said what he meant and was not afraid to speak up, Wasylycia-Leis continued.

“The most striking thing about Bill is his whole involvement in politics was as a result of a set of values that flowed from the social gospel, but were an integral part of the NDP: equality, justice, dignity, peace, democracy.”

An accomplishment of Blaikie’s that stands out most for Wasylycia-Leis was his fundamental role in the development of the Canadian Health Act in 1984, and the adoption of five principles of medicare that have “stood the test of time,” she said.

A bearded man with glasses sits in an office, in front of shelves lined with books.
Bill Blaikie is being remembered for his value-driven political career that spanned more than three decades. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Wasylycia-Leis says she also admired Blaikie’s dedication to his family, which showed her that being a politician does not mean sacrificing family and loved ones, but finding a way to integrate both in a crazy political world.

“And he did that,” she said.

Wasylycia-Leis says she last saw Blaikie at his home a couple of weeks ago, and while the former politician was not doing well physically his mind was still sharp. Blaikie spoke to her about the need for the NDP to be strong amid a changing political landscape.

Wasylycia-Leis says she could not have done politics without Blaikie’s guidance, and will remember him as a leader, mentor, teacher and as a friend.

“To me, if you’re thinking about politics, follow the example of Bill Blaikie,” she said “He showed that you don’t have to compromise who you are — that politics is not the pursuit of personalities but about the pursuit of social justice and a desire to change the world.”

Nathan Martindale, vice president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, tweeted a video of Blaikie playing the bagpipes for his son, Daniel Blaikie, at a victory party in October 2019 following Daniel’s re-election as the MP for Elmwood-Transcona.

Éric Hébert-Daly, an ordained minister at the United Church of Canada, says Blaikie inspired him to go down both a political path and a religious one.

Hébert-Daly met Blaikie in 1993, and said they had a “fascinating intersection of paths” throughout their lives. Blaikie was his theology professor during  before he became an ordained minister, and Hébert-Daly served as the director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society when Blaikie was Manitoba;s conservation minister, he said.

When Blaikie lost his bid to become leader of the NDP to Jack Layton in 2003, Hébert-Daly says Blaikie helped Layton find his way as the new leader.

“I’ll never forget the grace with which [Blaikie] agreed to continue to be a leader within the party even after that had taken place,” Hébert-Daly told CBC in a Sunday interview.

Former MP and MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis says she could not have handled politics without Blaikie’s guidance. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

And even when they disagreed, Hébert-Daly says, Blaikie never failed to listen.

“He wasn’t the kind of person who would hold to his opinion and not actually actively listen and try to hear what was being said … The grace and the active listening and empathy he shared was a big reason why he was elected over and over again.”

Hébert-Daly says Blaikie made an impact on Canadian legislation from the smallest of issues to larger, constitutional ones.

“He was there and he was present and he had an influence all the way along, because he could talk to people in a way that was real and authentic and quite persuasive,” he recalled.

“All of that makes Bill someone that has left an immense legacy on this country.”

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