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Wednesday, 17 October 2018 06:42
 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Speech at Reception

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s remarks on June 16 2008 at 75th Anniversary of the Canadian Polish Congress and the 150th anniversary of the first Polish settlement in Canada event.

I'm very pleased to join you tonight as we celebrate the three milestones that have been talked about by many speakers in the shared history that binds Canada and Poland together.  First, 2008 marks the 150th anniversary of the first Polish settlement in Canada.  Not far, just west of here in the area called Kaszuby, in and around the hamlet of Wilno.  This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Polish community in Windsor, which played such a big role in building the Canadian auto industry there.  These anniversaries remind us how much we as Canadians have benefited from Canadians of Polish descent, more than 800 000 strong in this country today, how much you have done to help build our great country.  Polish Canadians have made their mark in every walk of Canadian life.  I was told that former Deputy Prime Minister Don Mazankowski had some Polish ancestry.  Of course, the late broadcaster Peter Gzowski, and soon-to-be Canada's new Chief of Defence Staff, Lieutenant General Walter Natynczyk is here, so give him a big hand.  Finally, 2008 is the 75th anniversary of the Canadian-Polish Congress.  Throughout its history, the Congress has been a strong voice for Canadians of Polish descent and a champion of closer Canada-Poland relations.  Our government has been working closely with Władislaw and with the Congress on a number of issues including the removal of visa requirements for Polish visitors to Canada.  We also consulted on the agreement on the portability of pensions, which was signed when I visited Poland in April, and on the youth mobility agreements we're now negotiating also with Poland.

The trip to Poland this year was my first. I had a number of very memorable events.  I had a tremendous meeting and dinner with Prime Minister Tusk.  We agreed on just about everything.  I think we straightened out the world in a couple of hours!

I also had a meeting with one of my personal heroes, and that was with former President Lech Wałęsa. That was a really interesting guy to talk to, and let me just relay a part of that conversation with you.  I asked him whether when he was leading the Solidarity movement at the darkest days, he thought they would succeed in their objectives, how confident was he of success?  And he said he never had any doubt about it, never had any doubt at all.  He said there were three things, as an electrician he could see the changes in technology that were going to make Communists' control harder and harder.  He said second, you had the arrival of a Polish Pope and the Polish Church as a bastion against Communism, and he said the third most important thing was, he said, the Polish people never had accepted and never had believed in Communism.  In fact, he said the big difference in Poland and so many other countries, he said in Poland even the Communists didn't believe in Communism. But it is an amazing story, how one man, a simple man taking a stand could lead to a series of events which would not just topple the Communist puppet regime, but ultimately lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Soviet Union.  What a tremendous legacy for any human being to have.

During our short trip, I saw the historic beauty as well, and grandeur of Gdansk and the tremendous growth and modernization that's occurring in Krakow.  We also visited, more sombrely, the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau where tens of thousands of Poles were executed by the Nazis.  It was a tremendously sad and moving experience.

Poland endured more than its share of suffering and oppression during the last century, first under the Nazis, then under the Communists, but the Polish people have persevered, and now Poland is a leader in Eastern Europe. Indeed it is becoming a leader of NATO, a leader in the world, a model for countries struggling to achieve freedom, democracy and open free market economies. Frankly, to see that transformation in Poland and the way the Polish people so deeply understand the gift that is freedom and democracy that we have come to take for granted is truly inspiring, and the Poles are doing a great job around the world.

In any case, I know that the Canadian-Polish Congress and the Canada-Poland Parliamentary Friendship Group have provided stalwart support for Poland during all its difficult years and its years of transition.  Let me assure you that our government wholeheartedly supports your efforts, and we thank you for everything you have done, you are doing and that I know you will do to advance Canada-Polish relations. Thank you very much. Happy anniversary. Merci beaucoup. Dziynkuja.