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Family, colleagues mourn ‘leading light’ of NDP

Former MP, MLA dies at 71 after battle with kidney cancer

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Bill Blaikie, a Manitoban politician whose career saw him serve for over three decades, has died at 71 years old.

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Bill Blaikie, a Manitoban politician whose career saw him serve for over three decades, has died at 71 years old.

Blaikie was suffering from kidney cancer and announced earlier this week he was transferring into palliative care.

His son Daniel — who currently serves as MP for Elmwood-Transcona — announced his death Saturday afternoon on Facebook.

Bill Blaikie, who served both federal and Manitoba NDP parties over a long political career, died Saturday at age 71.

“It is difficult to express in words our grief, as well as our gratitude for all the love, wisdom and fun he shared with us over the years,” Daniel wrote, attributing the statement to the family. “Street-side pipers, food, flowers and especially stories of how Bill inspired and entertained people over the years were a comfort to him and us in his final days.”

Blaikie was a longtime member of the New Democratic Party who served as both a member of Parliament and an MLA.

“He was a leading light in terms of policy in the caucus… he will be remembered and missed by hundreds of thousands,” said friend and former NDP MLA Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

Wasylycia-Leis, who first sat in caucus with Blaikie in 1997, remembers him as a “gentle giant” and juggernaut of political will. His ethics, compassion and analytic ability had long been a driving force behind party decisions, and his influence will be felt for decades, she said.

First elected in 1979, Blaikie began his career as an MP in the former Winnipeg-Birds Hill riding and served for eight years until the electoral district was dissolved in 1988.

Blaikie went on to win four elections in the newly formed Winnipeg-Transcona riding and another two when the electoral district was renamed Elmwood-Transcona in 2004.

He strived to lead the federal NDP but lost to Jack Layton in 2003. At the time, Wasylycia-Leis supported his bid.

“He was like a shepherd to us,” Wasylycia-Leis said of Blaikie’s influence, adding that he was able to cross party boundaries and unify members.

Shifting to provincial politics, he won the Manitoba NDP’s Elmwood seat in a 2009 byelection and was appointed to premier Greg Selinger’s cabinet. His career in the Manitoba legislature saw him serve as House leader and conservation minister.

“He was very strong on making sure he paid attention to the working people, not just in Transcona-Elmwood, but working people in general,” Selinger said. “He was big on having conversations with the people he represented, he didn’t just try to impose things from on high.”

Bill Blaikie strived to lead the federal NDP but lost to Jack Layton in 2003. (Kevin Frayer / The Canadian Press files)

Selinger knew Blaikie for more than forty years, first meeting him in Winnipeg’s inner city when Blaikie was the minister of the North End Community Ministry. Together, they worked to keep neighbourhoods protected from overpass development.

From the beginning Selinger knew Blaikie as a man who was wry, insightful and passionate about social causes.

“He would ask penetrating questions, but not be mean or nasty,” Selinger said. “His views were rooted in his values of social justice and social gospel. He was willing to discuss things and he wasn’t one to make it personal.”

Selinger described Blaikie’s death as “a source of great sorrow,” but stressed that his legacy lives on through his children.

Daniel Blaikie has assumed his father’s former post as an NDP MP of Transcona-Elmwood. Rebecca Blaikie formerly served as NDP president between 2011 and 2016. And last October, Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud was named the CEO of Winnipeg’s Siloam Misson.

Blaikie retired from politics in 2011. He and Wasylycia-Leis remained friends throughout the years.

The last time they were together was earlier this month when Wasylycia-Leis visited him in the hospital. She brought a gift of wild blueberries — a personal favourite of his, she said.

Even in his final weeks of life, Blaikie remained passionate about politics, she said.

“He was sharp as a whip, despite his declining physical health, and always ready for a conversation,” she said. “He was concerned about the far right and the shifting political landscape, and he believed the NDP could be a stronger voice.”

In 2020, Blaikie was recognized for his parliamentary service with an appointment to the Order of Canada.

New Democratic Party MP Bill Blaikie of Manitoba is hugged by a supporter at the party’s convention in Toronto in 2003. (Kevin Frayer / The Canadian Press files)

It was a fitting honour, given his long-standing impact on Canadian politics and activism, Wasylycia-Leis said, remembering a piece of sage advice he often recited to her:

“People come and go, but it’s the values that keep us together.”

She said it is up to the NDP to collect the pieces of Blaikie’s legacy and move forward.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh sent his condolences to the Blaikie family in a Twitter post Saturday afternoon.

“Bill was a giant in our party. His unwavering commitment to social and economic justice, his legendary knowledge of Parliament and his sense of humour will be missed by all,” Singh wrote. “Rest in power, Bill.”

tyler.searle@freepress.mb.ca

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