Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Backbench NDP MLA resigns

Family, health behind decision: Whitehead

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Frank Whitehead was first elected as MLA for The Pas in 2009.

COURTNEY CAMPBELL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Frank Whitehead was first elected as MLA for The Pas in 2009. Photo Store

An NDP backbencher has resigned from the legislature for health and family reasons.

Frank Whitehead had represented The Pas since 2009. His resignation came on Friday, a day the house doesn't sit.

"After lengthy discussions with health professionals and my family, I've made the difficult decision to retire from politics," Whitehead said in a statement released by the NDP caucus. "In the end, I was just no longer able to put in the long hours of work and travel this important job demands. I would like to thank all the people of The Pas constituency for their support and understanding."

Whitehead, 61, was unavailable for comment.

Point Douglas NDP MLA Kevin Chief, who sat beside Whitehead in the legislature, said his friend's resignation was not a complete surprise.

"I knew he was dealing with some health challenges," said Chief, who described Whitehead as a "very humble man" with "an incredible sense of humour" who pushed for greater employment opportunities for young people.

"He's somebody I'm deeply going to miss in the legislature," Chief said.

Whitehead's retirement from politics comes a year after the death of his wife, Margaret. He has four grown children, none of whom live in the city.

A former chief of Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Whitehead won a byelection in 2009 occasioned by the death of longtime NDP MLA and cabinet minister Oscar Lathlin.

Lathlin worked hard while battling health problems, dying a few days after a trip to the remote northern community of Shamattawa, Chief said. "I don't think that's lost on anybody," he said.

In a statement, Premier Greg Selinger thanked Whitehead for his years of service. "The demands of public life can be very difficult, particularly for a northern MLA, and I know Frank struggled with this decision. Ultimately, health and family must come first."

A byelection must be called within one year to replace Whitehead.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 A19

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