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William Knight was born on October 24, 1947 in Estevan, Saskatchewan. He received his primary and secondary education in the Estevan area and later attended the University of Saskatchewan (Regina Campus), where he earned Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees. He taught at Weyburn Collegiate. He married Ann Colquhoun of Burnaby, B.C. in 1969.
Knight was a member of several organizations: the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation, Royal Canadian Legion, Canadian Historical Association, Saskatchewan Council of Social Science, Husdon's Bay Route Association and a charter member of the S.H.V.A. Knight first entered politics in 1971, when he was elected MP for Assiniboia a position he held until 1974. From 1974 to 1979 he served as NDP Provincial Secretary and from 1979 to 1982 acted as Principal Secretary to the then Premier of Saskatchewan, Allan Blakeney. Knight then moved to Ottawa, where he served as Principal Secretary to NDP leader Ed Broadbent from 1982 to 1987.