Former Manitoba MP Bev Desjarlais dead at 62

Bev Desjarlais, the former Manitoba MP who defeated Elijah Harper in the 1997 federal election and went on to break New Democrat Party lines by voting against same-sex marriage, has died.

Desjarlais defeated Elijah Harper in 1997 election, voted against same-sex marriage defying NDP

Former Manitoba MP Bev Desjarlais has died. (Submitted by Kris Desjarlais )

Bev Desjarlais, the former Manitoba MP who defeated Elijah Harper in the 1997 federal election and went on to break New Democrat Party lines by voting against same-sex marriage, has died.

Desjarlais, 62, died on Thursday afternoon in Brandon, Man., after a battle with multiple system atrophy, which began in 2013 when she was diagnosed with a form of Parkinson's disease.

"Mom lived the way she wanted to live right to the very end," Brandon Coun. Kris Desjarlais said about his late mother.

Desjarlais defeated former Liberal MP Elijah Harper in 1997 and was elected as an MP for the NDP for the Churchill riding, serving until 2005.

Kris Desjarlais said his mom will be remembered for having a ton of energy, a strong spirit and staying true to her convictions — she voted in 2005 against same-sex marriage, which put her at odds with her own party and led to her being stripped of her duties as critic for the NDP.

"We went toe to toe from time to time on that, but I loved her and I know that my mom was not … homophobic; it was this religious conviction that I couldn't quite get her to come around to," he said.

"She could be so stubborn and determined."

'She made a great contribution'

Bill Blaikie, a retired NDP MP who Desjarlais supported during his bid for the federal NDP leadership, said he'll remember her for staying true to her beliefs.

"She was someone who was very collegial with her colleagues but also a person of strong convictions. You never doubted where she stood on things and she made a great contribution."

After losing the NDP nomination for Churchill to current MP Niki Ashton in 2005, Desjarlais worked for former Conservative veterans affairs minister Greg Thompson who served under the Harper government — a move some members of her party criticized.

'Would still be voting NDP till the end'

But her son said being able to put political differences aside and having respect for others who were serving in public office was something his mom was good at.

After leaving politics, his mom went on to teach a ward clerk management course at Robertson College, he said.

It was a job she loved but had to quit after her diagnosis.

There was one thing she stayed true till up till her death, her son said.

"I can assure you that she was still an NDPer. She would still be voting NDP till the end."

Desjarlais' funeral is on April 7 in Brandon. She leaves behind seven siblings, three children and 11 grandchildren.

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Austin Grabish

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Austin Grabish landed his first byline when he was just 18. Before joining CBC, he reported for several outlets with work running across the country. He studied human rights in university and holds a degree and diploma in communications. Connect with him here: austin.grabish@cbc.ca