She fought the good fight, won more than she lost and now takes a bow: Anne Swarbrick retires from Habitat for Humanity

By Staff

BURLINGTON, ON  May 24, 2012  – She’s done it all – fought the good fight, did what she thought was right; went public with personal health issues at a time when that just wasn’t done.

Anne Swarbrick, socialist, community activist – one of those that make a difference and will continue to make a difference took her last bow at Halton’s Habitat for Humanity and retired from that day to day activity.

Anne Swarbrick: Always front and center when it came to the right of the underprivileged.

Swarbrick served as a politician, public employee, labour representative and senior administrator of non-profit organizations. She was a New Democratic Party member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, and served as a cabinet minister in the government of Bob Rae.

Born in Toronto, Swarbrick entered public life after working as an Immigration Counsellor and Adjudicator at the Canada Employment and Immigration Commission, as Regional Representative of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), as Special Projects Coordinator for Labour Community Services, and as Executive Assistant to the President of the Labour Council of Metropolitan Toronto and York Region, where her responsibilities included serving on the City of Toronto’s Economic Development Committee.

Her first run at politics was a 1987 run against Progressive Conservative member for Markham, Don Cousens. She lost that one but in the 1990 provincial election, she ran to succeed veteran NDP member Richard Johnston in the riding of Scarborough West.

The NDP won a majority government and Swarbrick won a landslide victory in her riding. She was named a minister without portfolio responsible for Women’s Issues. Among the Rae government’s initiatives for gender equality, Swarbrick became the first woman to Chair the Cabinet Committee on Justice Policy, traditionally chaired by the Attorney General. Her accomplishments included gaining a 43% increase in provincial funding to address violence against women and, along with provincial Health Minister Evelyn Gigantes, co-leading a delegation to the Canadian Senate that assisted in preventing passage of the then federal government’s legislation to re-criminalize abortion in Canada.

Swarbrick became involved in controversy in 1991 when it was revealed that she had written a letter to the head of the Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons asking for suspension of the license of a physician who had been convicted on five counts of sexual assault of his patients. That was a no, no and could have cost Swarbrick her seat in the Legislature but Liberal Party leader Bob Nixon expressed his view to the Ontario Legislature that, while it may not have been an appropriate action for a member of Cabinet, it was not one that should lead to her discharge.

Diagnosed with breast cancer during her fourth month in Cabinet, Swarbrick became the first Canadian public figure to be open about her battle in an effort to end the culture of silence about this then highly stigmatizing disease. As Swarbrick’ s treatments of chemotherapy and radiation continued to take their toll, she eventually resigned her position on September 11, 1991 in order to focus on her recovery.

Regaining her health, Swarbrick was again appointed to cabinet as Minister of Culture, Tourism and Recreation on February 3, 1993. Overseeing a wide range of provincial Crown corporations, her initiatives included support for the Art Gallery of Ontario to bring the world famous Barnes Collection to Toronto. She also assisted in gaining provincial funding for Willow Breast Cancer Support Canada. Swarbrick was not a fan of Bob Rae’s Social Contract legislation and the media had her threatening to resign but she didn’t actually do so.

Swarbrick lost her seat to Progressive Conservative Jim Brown  in the 1995 election but then so did just about every other NDP member.  With her political career at an end Swarbrick returned to the classroom and completed graduate studies and obtained her Master of Business Administration from  York University. She then served in a variety of leadership roles in the non-profit sector, including Manager of Toronto Operations for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Executive Director of the Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange, and President and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation.

So – what kind of a lady is it that we have moving into retirement?  A scrapper for sure and while the hours she puts in will be a little shorter – don’t expect any of that talent to be wasted.

Ed McMahon, Chair, Board of Directors, put it all into perspective when he said at an Open House to honour and celebrate the retirement: “Anne has contributed in meaningful ways to the effectiveness of our affiliate. She has demonstrated her commitment to the vision and mission of our organization, and has built a professional staff team that is dedicated to serving our partner families and the community of Halton. We wish her well in her retirement.”



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