By Jon Weier
As many of you know, our great friend, Bill Blaikie, passed away last Saturday. Bill’s life-long work was forwarding the cause of social democracy and social justice in Canada. The board and staff of the Douglas-Coldwell-Layton Foundation sends its deepest condolences to Brenda, Rebecca, Jessica, Daniel, Tessa and the entire Blaikie family.
I had the immense good fortune to work closely with Bill as his legislative assistant for five years from 2001 to 2005. In that time he was a leading voice in the struggle against undemocratic neo-liberal free-trade deals, he led parliamentary opposition to Canada’s involvement in the War on Terror, and he spoke up against draconian anti-terror legislation that led to the disgraceful treatment and imprisonment of Maher Arar and Omar Khadr. Working with Bill was inspiring and life-defining. I learnt from Bill that public service means giving voice to the voiceless, showing solidarity with those without power or privilege, and never being indifferent to the suffering of others.
The five years I spent working with Bill were only a small part of his career of public service. Bill was the Member of Parliament for his hometown of Transcona for almost thirty years from his first election in 1979 until he retired from the House of Commons in 2008. In that time he served in almost every critic role and supported Jack Layton as the NDP's parliamentary leader before Jack’s election in 2004. Bill then made the move to provincial politics and for two years was the provincial NDP Minister of Conservation. He ended up being one of the longest serving CCF or NDP MPs, emulating the example of his political mentors, Tommy Douglas and Stanley Knowles. Of his many accomplishments, he was especially proud to have been chosen to officiate at Tommy’s funeral in 1986, and to have been asked to give the eulogy for Stanley in 1997.
Throughout his career Bill has inspired those around him to embark on lives of public service to continue the important work of building true social democracy in Canada. At the Douglas-Coldwell-Layton Foundation we are committed to furthering Bill’s work, inspiring new generations of social democratic organizers and activists, and honouring and sharing Bill’s legacy and the legacies of all of those who have built our movement.
Jon Weier is a member of the DCL Foundation Board of Directors, a historian and professor of Labour Studies at George Brown College.