Manitoba

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

Tributes are pouring in following news that Bill Blaikie, a longtime Manitoba New Democrat whose political career spanned more than three decades, has died.

Blaikie, 71, died on Saturday after battle with metastatic kidney cancer, family says

Bill Blaikie is being remembered for his values-driven political career that spanned more than three decades. (Submitted by Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud)

Tributes are pouring in following news that Bill Blaikie, a longtime Manitoba New Democrat whose political career spanned more than three decades, has died.

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.

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, Blaikie's daughter and CEO of Siloam Mission, said she and her siblings are living out their father's call to build a better world through their work.

"He wanted us to recognize that even though we were his kids, that we were all God's kids, and that meant that everyone was our sibling and we needed to make the world better for them," she told guest host Faith Fundal during a Monday interview with CBC's Information Radio.

She hopes people will associate the word "integrity" with her father. And although his career choice made him miss home at times, Blaikie Whitecloud said her father would not have had it any other way.

"He could have picked a different job, but he said that this was the best way that he could change the world."

Bill Blaikie is also being remembered for his dedication to family. From left, his wife Brenda Blaikie, daughters Jessica Blaikie-Buffie, Rebecca Blaikie and Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud and son Daniel Blaikie. (Submitted by Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud)

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, a former MP and MLA, said 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 said.

"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 said.

"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 Canada Health Act in 1984, and the adoption of five principles of medicare that have "stood the test of time," she said.

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.

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

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.

Blaikie had an affinity for bagpipes and everything Scottish, according to his daughter. He wrote songs for the bagpipe and traveled to Scotland regularly to play.

"There'll definitely be pipes at the funeral," said Blaikie Whitecloud, adding that people played bagpipes outside her father's home after learning that he would enter palliative care.

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 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.

Éric Hébert-Daly, an ordained minister at the United Church of Canada, says Blaikie leaves an immense legacy. (Joanne Roberts/CBC)

And even when they disagreed, Hébert-Daly said, 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."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Özten Shebahkeget is an online reporter at CBC Manitoba. She is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation, born and raised in Winnipeg's inner city. She recently completed the master of fine arts writing program at the University of Saskatchewan where she wrote a speculative verse novel set at the Manitoba legislative building. You can reach her at ozten.shebahkeget@cbc.ca.

With files from Faith Fundal and Joanne Roberts

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