Bill Blaikie: What Can Be Done

On September 24, 2022, a giant of Canadian politics, the Reverend Bill Blaikie died at 71 in his hometown of Winnipeg from liver cancer. The veteran parliamentarian practiced the social gospel vision of the United Church and served for 34 years in either the Canadian or Manitoban legislatures. He brought it up to date with new visions for eco-justice and reconciliation with native peoples. 
For most of his time in parliaments, Blaikie served in opposition in Ottawa, performing a role of damage control to uphold the achievements of past champions of his creed, such as Tommy Douglas, J. S. Woodsworth, and Stanley Knowles. Typical of his accomplishments, there was terminating extra billing that was corrupting the Canadian healthcare sector, which his predecessors had made free of charge through a great struggle. 
Blaikie’s great positive achievements came after he left Ottawa after 29 years in the federal parliament from 1979 to 2008, when he retired to briefly serve as a Professor of Theology and Politics at the University of Winnipeg. His time of university preaching was cut short by the retirement of the provincial member from Transcona, Jim Maloway, in December 2008.
Shortly after Maloway announced his retirement Blaikie was acclaimed as the New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate for Transcona and elected through a by-election to the legislature. There he became Minister of Conservation and House Leader in the government of Premier Greg Selinger. 
When he sought to become the NDP national leader, Blaikie was ridiculed for expecting the position as a sort of gold watch for long-time service. In reality, he would be given the gold watch by Selinger to accomplish the great dream of many who enter politics to serve the public good. This was to turn over vast areas of the Crown Lands of Manitoba from the plunder of resource companies to the stewardship of native peoples through agreements that extended provincial parks and other protected areas. 
Upon becoming Minister of Conservation, the biggest challenge Blaikie faced was to push through the cancellation of a long-touted hydro corridor to Ontario, through the heart of the world’s largest intact forest, Canada’s Boreal forest. The hydro corridor was established on a longer route through the western agriculturally dominated part of Manitoba, away from the boreal forest.
A ten-million-dollar trust fund was established for ecological stewardship in Pimachiowin Aki, a vast area larger than Yellowstone National Park. The protection entrenched by legislation Blaikie shepherded through the Manitoba legislature protects 12 000 square miles from the eastern shore of Lake Winnipeg to the complimentary protected area of Ontario’s Woodland Caribou Provincial Park. 
In the Ojibwe language, Pimachiowin Aki means “The Land that Gives Life.” Its protected landscape is the only area of Manitoba where Moose and Woodland Caribou populations have escaped disturbing declines.  Blaikie’s victory was attacked by the then-opposition Conservatives, who used it successfully in the 2011 provincial general election. 
Despite their grumbling in opposition, the Manitoba Conservatives, upon forming a government, saw the wisdom of Blaikie’s actions. They reaffirmed the decisions they denounced in opposition, agreeing with David Suzuki’s words that “the life support systems of the planet”, would be jeopardized by “electrical wires” cutting through an “Intact forest.” 
The healing programs in Pimachiowin Aki are in stark contrast to those funded by mining companies in other parts of Canada’s vast boreal forest, which remain under threat of industrial exploitation. Community healing lodges counter the abusive impacts of the residential school system, teaching a message that sacred forests should not be desecrated. The community sees its long-term future in carbon counting, estimating the storage of  44 million tons within their protected landscape.
It is to be hoped that Blaikie’s role in protecting Pimachiowin Aki will inspire other political leaders to take up the causes of a vital carbon sink in the Muskego, the homeland of the nation known as the Swampy Cree. This air conditioner for the planet is threatened by pliant politicians who ignore the giant stature of Bill Blaikie.


Local Chapter: