Klazina (Judith) Wasylycia-Leis, born August 10, 1951, is a Manitoba trailblazer and leader in politics, community development, feminism and disability rights. In fact, her entire adult life has been a merger between the personal and the political.
Wasylycia-Leis is a mother, wife and friend and ally to thousands of Manitobans, a mentor and political hero to countless women over many decades and a loving parent advocate for a son born with profound developmental disabilities. She has four decades of electoral experience and has been staunchly committed to addressing systemic barriers to equality through the democratic process in both the political arena and the not-for-profit community.
Wasylycia-Leis was educated at the University of Waterloo, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in 1974, and at Carleton University, where she received a Master of Arts in political science in 1976. She moved to Manitoba during the 1980s and was an executive assistant to Premier Howard Pawley and coordinated the Women’s Directorate in the Manitoba government. In the mid 1980s, Wasylycia-Leis was acclaimed the NDP candidate for the North End Winnipeg riding of St. Johns after Don Malinowski announced his resignation as MLA. She handily won the 1986 provincial election and in 1986 was appointed to the cabinet as Minister of Culture, Heritage and Recreation with responsibility for the Status of Women and the administration of the Manitoba Lotteries Foundation Act.
She was re-elected in 1988, and again in 1990. Throughout her time in government and opposition, she juggled work and family responsibilities drawing public criticism and media attention. As a cabinet minister, she had a playpen in her office for visits from daycare of her two-year old son and was accused of being a high-priced babysitter.
In 1988 she returned to the Legislative Building a few days after the birth of her second son which resulted in front-page coverage of her decision to breast feed at work and drew public criticism that she was wasting taxpayers’ money. While pregnant with her second son, Wasylycia-Leis learned that her firstborn had a rare brain disorder causing uncontrollable seizures which gave her new insights into the pursuit of equality for persons living with disabilities.
Wasylycia-Leis resigned her provincial seat in 1993 to run federally in Winnipeg North. She lost the 1993 election but ran successfully in 1997 in the riding of Winnipeg North Centre, marking the start of five consecutive terms in the House of Commons as an NDP MP.
In Parliament, she focused primarily on issues relating to women and women’s health, and driving human rights leadership and progress. Wasylycia-Leis served as her party’s health critic and was made critic for women’s and senior’s issues in 2001.
She ran in the mayoralty race in Winnipeg in 2010 and lost to Sam Katz. In 2014, she came second, losing to Brian Bowman.
Since then, Wasylycia-Leis has devoted her boundless energy and time to serve countless charities and organizations devoted to social progress, disability rights and inclusion, democracy, the arts, and community economic development.