• Remembering Heather Crowe, Smoke-Free Ontario advocate

    From time to time I’m asked, particularly by students, what one action I’m most proud of as a politician.

    And I always answer that it was having the opportunity to implement the Smoke Free Ontario Act, as Ontario’s first minister of Health Promotion back in 2006.

    But while I had the honour of making sure this important law was implemented, the true credit for this ground breaking piece of legislation rests with a humble, and courageous waitress named Heather Crowe.

    Heather was a kind, soft spoken hospitality worker who I first got to know when she waitressed at The Newport Restaurant on Richmond Road in Westboro.

    She had worked for 40 years in the restaurant industry, and never smoked a day in her life.

    Yet for those four decades she was exposed to that awful blue haze known as second hand smoke.

    It seems unbelievable today, but it wasn’t that long ago that you could light up a cigarette in virtually any public place such as a dining hall or a bar. How many remember that famous line when entering an eatery: “smoking or non-smoking section?”

    Heather was diagnosed with stage 3B non small cell lung cancer in the upper lobe of her left lung in 2002.

    Yet instead of bemoaning the fact that she had a serious health challenge, she quickly became one of the most effective advocates for a smoking ban in public places.

    She traveled the country and spoke to politicians, service clubs, and anti smoking groups and eventually had the opportunity to speak with Dalton McGunity, who at the time was Leader of the Opposition and putting together his platform for the 2003 campaign.

    Due to her passion and personal story, her quest for a smoke free Ontario found its way into McGuinty’s platform. The campaign promise made its way into a bill, which passed and became law on May 31, 2006.

    I can still recall the outrage some restaurant and bar owners had towards the legislation, saying that it would kill their business and that thousands would lose their jobs.  Of course this did not happen, and today there are more people working in these establishments than ever before.

    Sadly, Heather passed away in 2006 just a few weeks before the legislation came into effect, but thanks to her advocacy and her own personal courage and fight, Ontario lead the country with the toughest and most progressive anti smoking legislation. A decade after her passing, her voice is as strong as ever.

    On May 31, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Smoke Free Ontario Act, and I know that this one act has and will continue to save lives of both patrons and hospitality workers who are no longer subjected to the dangers of second hand smoke.

    So when I have the opportunity to talk to students about what I’m most proud of, I also take the time to thank Heather for her courage and determination. Her actions have given waiters and waitresses the right to go work in a safe and healthy environment, while eliminating the risk of second-hand smoke illness and death in the workplace.