Bill Blaikie

William Alexander Blaikie, PC, OC, politician, United Church minister, professor (born 19 June 1951 in Winnipeg, MB; died 24 September 2022 in Winnipeg). Bill Blaikie was an ordained United Church minister and a proponent of social gospel politics. A major figure in the New Democratic Party (NDP), he served as a Member of Parliament (MP) for 29 years. He sought the leadership of the federal NDP in 2003, placing second behind Jack Layton. After retiring from federal politics, he was elected to one term as a Manitoba MLA and served as minister of conservation. He was also an adjunct professor of theology and politics at the University of Winnipeg.

Early Life

Raised in the Winnipeg suburb of Transcona, Bill Blaikie was active in his church and scouting in his youth. He was also involved in model parliaments and served as vice-president of his junior high school’s student council. In high school, he was a member of the Young Progressive Conservatives. (See Progressive Conservative Party.) Blaikie also developed a passion and talent for playing the bagpipes, an aspect of his Scottish heritage that he revelled in. He played the pipes as a scout and as a member of the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada, with whom he served from 1967 to 1972. (See also 38 Canadian Brigade Group.) A highlight from his days as a piper was playing the Edinburgh Tattoo in 1970.

Education and Theology

From 1969 to 1974, Blaikie worked part-time as a labourer for the Canadian National Railway (CN) while attending school. In 1971, he joined the New Democratic Party, to which he would be aligned for the rest of his life. He earned his BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies from the University of Winnipeg in 1973. He then pursued his religious education, graduating with a Master of Divinity from Emmanuel College at the Toronto School of Theology in 1977.

Blaikie was ordained as a United Church of Canada minister in 1978. From 1977 to 1979, he was the director of North End Community Ministry at the Stella Avenue Mission (a.k.a. All People’s Mission) in Winnipeg. He said that he did not leave the ministry to pursue politics, but saw both as his calling. In 2005, he stated that he “always felt double booked, committed both to engaging the life and work and self-understanding of the church, and to engagement as a citizen in the political process.” Blaikie was a proponent of the social gospel tradition in Canadian progressive and social democratic politics.

Did you know?
“Social gospellers shared a profound belief that the ideology of competition is a lie about the nature of a truly human society. They rejected the profit motive as a sanctification of vice and a recipe for exploitation. They rejected the concentration of incredible economic powers in the hands of a commercial corporate minority, and the challenge to our democratic self-image and to individual freedom that it posed. They shared a belief in the value of economic co-operation as the true expression of our life together…. They were realists about the need for… restraints on human selfishness.” —Bill Blaikie

Federal Political Career

Blaikie was first elected to Parliament in 1979, representing the riding of Winnipeg-Birds Hill. (It was redistributed and renamed Winnipeg-Transcona in 1988 and Elmwood-Transcona in 2004.) The riding was predominantly working class and one Blaikie knew well, having grown up there.

A major early success for Blaikie took place in 1984. In his position as NDP health critic, he successfully lobbied the government of Pierre Trudeau to take decisive action against the erosion of public health care in Canada. While the federal health minister, Monique Bégin, publicly stated her hope that provincial governments would do the right thing and maintain their support for universal public health care, in private she was concerned they might not act in the people’s interest. Blaikie consistently argued that the government needed to take strong action to preserve health care. He advanced the idea that the federal government should withhold financial support to provinces that were not respecting federal conditions on health care funding. Ultimately, the Canada Health Act was passed shortly before the defeat of the Trudeau government in 1984. Bégin credited Blaikie with forcing the Trudeau government to act on the matter.

Later, in 1998, Blaikie was instrumental in arguing against the proposed mergers of some of Canada’s largest banks, a position that was favoured by then-finance minister, and later prime minister, Paul Martin.

In 2003, while serving as the NDP’s defence critic, Blaikie was a vocal opponent of Canadian participation in the US-led invasion of Iraq. He also opposed Canada’s involvement in an American-led ballistic missile defence program. (See also Canada and Nuclear Weapons.) That same year, Blaikie contested the leadership of the NDP and finished second behind Jack Layton.

Later in his career, Blaikie served as the NDP House leader (January 1996 to February 2003), as deputy leader of the NDP (August 2004 to October 2008), and as deputy Speaker of the House of Commons (April 2006 to October 2008).

Blaikie represented the same riding for three decades, retiring in October 2008. Upon his retirement, he wrote an editorial that was highly critical of Parliament and what he viewed as a serious decline in the standards of the House over the course of his career. He noted “character assassination, simulated indignation, and trivial pursuit over substantial debate” as the principal flaws of the legislature, which he described as part of a “toxic culture” in Canadian politics.

Provincial Political Career

In 2008, Blaikie stated that he would seek the nomination for the Manitoba provincial riding of Elmwood. He was elected in 2009. Not long after, he was appointed to the Cabinet of premier Greg Selinger and became the minister of conservation. During this time, he led the development of five new provincial parks in Manitoba. He also worked as an adjunct professor of theology and politics at the University of Winnipeg at the time. He retired from politics for good in 2011.


All four of Bill Blaikie’s children followed in his footsteps, either as social justice activists, community organizers or political candidates. Daniel Blaikie was elected as the NDP Member of Parliament for his father’s old riding of Elmwood-Transcona in 2015, 2019 and 2021.


Bill Blaikie was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2020. He was commended for his lifelong commitment to social justice, for his career in politics, and for raising the bar of political discourse in the country. The Order also noted his commitment to the social gospel and his fostering of the dialogue between public policy and religion.

See also Bill Blaikie, Parliamentarian of the Year.