Bill Blaikie, longtime Manitoba politician who served federally and provincially, dead at 71

Bill Blaikie, a longtime Manitoba New Democrat whose political career spanned more than three decades and included terms in both the Manitoba House of Commons and the Manitoba Legislature, has died. He was 71.

Blaikie died in Winnipeg on Saturday after a battle with metastatic kidney cancer, according to a Facebook post by his son Daniel Blaikie.

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Blaikie was first elected Member of Parliament for riding up Winnipeg-Birds Hill in 1979. After that ride was dissolved in 1987, Blaikie won four elections in the new Winnipeg-Transcona ride and two more after it was renamed Elmwood-Transcona in 2004. He did not seek re-election in 2008.

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He entered provincial politics the following year and won the Elmwood seat in a 2009 by-election for the then-ruling NDP. He was appointed to the cabinet of Prime Minister Greg Selinger, where he served as Conservation Secretary and House Speaker until 2011, when he retired from politics.

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While in Ottawa, Blaikie sought leadership of the federal NDP, losing to Jack Layton in 2003.

Daniel Blaikie, left, with his father, Bill Blaikie. Daniel Blaikie was elected NDP MP for the 2015 Elmwood-Transcona riding his previously represented father. (Jim Still)

He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2020 for his lifelong contributions to parliamentary service and for his unwavering commitment to progressive change and social activism.

“His legacy stands on its own — it’s a living legacy,” said Lloyd Axworthy, who was a longtime Liberal cabinet minister and later president of the University of Winnipeg.

Axworthy was first elected MP in 1979, on the same day as Blaikie, and the two became well acquainted during their time in Parliament, although they sat on opposite sides of politics, he said.

“He was a strong believer in social democracy, he was a champion of the social gospel, but he was also a very good guy to get along with and a good person … just to get behind the scenes and just have a chat [with]’ said Axworthy, speaking to CBC on Friday after Blaikie shared a statement that he would be entering palliative care.

Their paths crossed again when Blaikie became an associate professor of theology and politics at the University of Winnipeg, where Axworthy served as president from 2004 to 2014.

“For students… with [a] big appetite to know, ‘How do things work?’” said Blaikie, who can bring his hands-on experience to the classroom, Axworthy said.

“He understood politics and could embrace that kind of pragmatism and practical adjustment, but always say, ‘But it has to be motivated and driven by a set of beliefs.’

Blaikie was “someone who clearly throughout his life, every step he took made a difference,” Axworthy said.

A woman in a blue blazer stands in the House of Commons, three men stand behind her.
Blaikie, right, stands next to New Democratic Party leader Alexa McDonough as they voted in the House of Commons June 7, 2001 against a pay rise for MPs. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

James Christie, a former dean of theology and professor at the University of Winnipeg, said Blaikie had “tremendous political and religious insight”.

In an interview with CBC on Friday, Christie said Blaikie’s ability to stand out during his time at university stems from his engaging personality.

“Bill could tell a story that would lead into another story and another story, and we could sit down and just talk, and in my case mostly just listen,” Christie said. “And he captivated his students in the same way.”

Christie, who worked with Blaikie at the University of Winnipeg for years, also mentioned his work as a politician, United Church minister and religious leader, musician and author. Blaikie wrote a memoir titled in 2011 The Blaikie Report: An Inside Look at Faith and Politics.

“I looked up to Bill partly because he was a lot taller than me … but he was also a man of great intellect and big heart, big dreams and great generosity,” Christie said.

“Just one of those people who were literally and figuratively larger than life.”

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