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Politics

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Poles/Henry Radecki

The few Poles who helped govern Upper or Lower Canada, the United Province of the Canadas after 1840, or the Dominion of Canada after 1867, had no successors in the first half of this century. Few cracks in the British-French political hegemony allowed the “others” to enter. Polish immigrants prior to 1939 had little tradition of political involvement. Subjects of absolute monarchs under the partitions, they had dealt largely with appointed officials; they were poorly educated and lacked the necessary language skills. They did not apparently encourage their children to enter political life. There were no Polish “ward heelers” to order immigrants to vote for favoured candidates, but it was widely believed that Poles always supported federal Liberal candidates, because of their party’s more open immigration policies and, since 1971, its greater concern with all ethnic groups. Polish names appear among members of parliament only in 1957, with the election of Liberal Dr Stanley Haidasz from a Toronto riding.

Poles in Canada were concerned with events in their homeland. Some did become involved in three small socialist organizations, active before and during World War I, and the paramilitary organization the Falcons. The left-wing radicals or the Communist federation active in the 1930s probably instructed members to support certain candidates or to boycott elections. With the encouragement of Polish consuls in Canada, some federations established ties with Polish government–sponsored immigration organizations in Warsaw in the early 1930s. Nearly all were involved with the Defence Fund for Poland before the outbreak of war. Only the Alliance (Związek Polaków) urged its members to consider themselves Canadians of Polish heritage and act accordingly. Organizations established by post-war exiles and refugees were deeply involved with the Polish government-in-exile in London. These ties weakened over the years, but contacts lasted until 1989, when the president in exile formally transferred his symbols of office to the newly elected president of Poland, Lech Wałęsa.

The Congress evolved into a quasi-political lobby group in Ottawa and in some provincial capitals. In June 1946 it made a submission to the Senate’s standing committee on immigration urging Canada to accept up to 500,000 Polish refugees and veterans. Immigration policies remain a major concern of the Congress. Census officials consult the Congress on their questionnaires. When a state of martial law was declared in Poland in December 1981 the Congress made repeated requests to Ottawa for strong condemnation and successfully urged an increase in quotas for admission of Polish political refugees. More recently it asked then Finance Minister Don Mazankowski to ease debts owed by Poland to Canada and for special trade considerations. Except for the Congress and its area offices, no Polish organization prior to 1986 played a direct role in Canadian political life. A study of 123 Polish organizations in the Toronto area in 1973 found that only 25 percent indicated some individuals’ interest in Canadian politics. In 1986 the Solidarity-era immigrants formed the Polish-Canadian Action Group to lobby Canadian politicians.

Pierre Trudeau actively courted the Poles by naming Stanley Haidasz the first minister responsible for multiculturalism in 1972 and appointing him to the Senate in 1978. Trudeau and other ministers frequently attended events of the larger Polish federations in seeming recognition of political support. Liberal Jesse Flis for many years held Haidasz’s former riding. Other Liberal MPs of Polish descent were Dr Hudecki and Stan (Kazimierczak) Keys from Hamilton. Progressive Conservative Pat Sobeski represented Cambridge, Ontario, and Don Mazankowski, MP for Vegreville, Alberta, served in Joe Clark and Brian Mulroney’s cabinets, including positions as minister of finance and deputy prime minister.

A number of Poles have sought political office in the last three decades. Toronto has had Polish-Canadian aldermen, as have other cities or towns; Ontario and the western provinces have had Polish MLAs and ministers, and Manitoba’s premier, Gary Filmon, is of Polish background. Toronto ridings with higher-than-average Polish density have chosen New Democratic Party MPPs, and a Tory has been regularly re-elected by the Kashubes from the Barry’s Bay–Wilno area.