Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ex-cabinet minister shaped province's political history

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THE man who helped persuade a young Ed Schreyer to seek the provincial NDP leadership -- and later served as Schreyer's agriculture minister -- has died.

Sam Uskiw passed away on Saturday at Selkirk General Hospital after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 77.

Uskiw served as MLA for Brokenhead and then Lac du Bonnet from 1966 to 1986, serving a dozen years in cabinet under two premiers, Schreyer and later Howard Pawley.

Uskiw met Schreyer through their involvement with the Manitoba Farmers Union in 1957, and the two toiled alongside one another for the CCF in that year's federal election.

Uskiw succeeded Schreyer as MLA for Brokenhead in 1966 after the future premier turned his attention to federal politics. In 1969, he was part of small group of party strategists who persuaded the 33-year-old Schreyer to leave his seat in the House of Commons to run for the provincial party leadership.

"The rest is history," said Schreyer, recalling the June 7 NDP leadership convention and the June 25 election that followed.

The NDP, led by Schreyer, defeated Walter Weir's Conservatives, and Uskiw was to serve as his agriculture minister for the next 81/2 years. There, he was known as a strong supporter of marketing boards as well as for introducing a program that helped Manitoba farmers install running water and indoor plumbing in their homes.

"It sounds like a mundane topic but in terms of impact on daily life it's very important indeed," Schreyer said of the initiative.

When Pawley formed government in 1981, after four years of Conservative rule, Uskiw held several portfolios including Highways and Transportation and Natural Resources. He left politics in 1986 and later cut his ties with the NDP, supporting Conservative candidates federally and provincially. It was said he had become uncomfortable with the provincial NDP's increasingly close ties with organized labour.

In the 2006 federal election, however, he supported his old pal Schreyer, when the former premier and governor general became a surprise (and ultimately unsuccessful) candidate for the NDP.

"I regarded him as a very longtime and loyal colleague, and I use the term 'loyal' not just in the partisan sense but also in the sense of loyalties to ideas and to policies and to political philosophy. And in that sense he was loyal indeed," Schreyer said.

Uskiw operated a consulting business following his political career.

His son Barry said Tuesday Uskiw was diagnosed with colon cancer six years ago. In recent years he started an organization to educate the public about the risks of colon cancer and to lobby government for improved screening for the disease.

Uskiw was predeceased by his wife Olga in 2004. He is survived by a son, a daughter and three stepchildren.

A memorial service for Uskiw will be held on April 2 at 1 p.m. in the East Selkirk Hall.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2011 A10

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