Keith Norton, a high-profile Ontario Conservative cabinet minister who went on to champion gay rights and battle age discrimination as head of the provincial human rights commission, has died.
His family says Mr. Norton died Sunday night in Toronto General Hospital of cancer. He was 69.
A former secondary school teacher and lawyer, Mr. Norton was elected to represent the riding of Kingston and the Islands in 1975 and became a cabinet minister two years later.
He became a senior minister in the Conservative government of Bill Davis, handling several portfolios over the years, including community and social services, environment and health.
As environment minister, he became the first Canadian cabinet minister to appear before a committee of the U.S. Senate – acid rain was the issue that dominated his time in the environment portfolio.
He went on to become education minister in the short-lived government of then-premier Frank Miller before losing his seat in the 1985 election. After leaving politics he took on new public duties, heading both the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
During his years in government, Mr. Norton was considered a rising star and his name was bandied about as a possible successor to Davis, but he chose not to seek the leadership.
Mr. Norton attempted a political comeback in the 1990 election, running as an openly gay politician in a Toronto riding that includes Canada's largest gay community. He finished third in the face of a wave that saw Bob Rae's New Democrats score a stunning upset.
Mr. Norton's life after politics was dominated by the field of human rights.
He was appointed in 1992 to head the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, a quasi-judicial body that adjudicates cases referred to it by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. He served in the position until 1995.
A year later, then-premier Mike Harris appointed Mr. Norton as chief commissioner of Ontario's Human Rights Commission, where he fought age discrimination and was a vocal advocate for the disabled and for gay rights.
During his tenure, he launched a debate on age discrimination in Ontario and was credited for making the first push to abolish mandatory retirement in Ontario.
His commission launched a public awareness campaign on age discrimination issues that was titled “Nobody has a shelf life. Stop age discrimination now.”
The human rights commission also pushed Ontario transit operators to provide greater access for the disabled.
After Mr. Norton left the commission in 2005, he went to work for a company that specializes in settling disputes between parties outside of court.