The Governor General of Canada, His Excellency David Johnston, paid an official state visit to Poland Oct. 22-25. The visit was a first at this level and was a visible indication of the strong and positive relations between the two countries. Our two countries share some important bilateral agreements ranging from education to trade, energy, and national security. Indeed, at the time of this visit, Canadian soldiers were in Poland doing military training.
The four-day visit started in Warsaw, where Governor General Johnston and wife, Sharon Johnston, were greeted by the Polish President, Bronisław Komorowski and Mrs Komorowska, and the Canadian ambassasor to Poland, Alex Bugailiskis. They reviewed a military honour guard, met members of the diplomatic corps, and paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Following his address to the students at the Warsaw School of Economics, the Governor General met with members and guests of the Canada-Polish Chamber of Commerce. Later the delegation visited the Warsaw Stock Exchange. His Excellency’s message highlighted Canada’s openness to growing bilateral collaboration with Poland and the resulting concrete achievements.
Canada and the EU have been working for over 5 years on a revolutionary trade agreement called CETA (Canadian European Trade Agreement). CETA is even more comprehensive and broader in scope than NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement). CETA will pave the path for over 97% of goods and services to flow both ways without tariffs. CETA includes Poland and with it we will see a number of new opportunities and ventures come to life. The final agreement may be signed as early as 2016 and will bring mutual benefits to both Canada and Poland.
One of these benefits will be collaboration on innovation. In Poland innovation is strong and the people of Poland are ambitious and hard working. On the other hand, the understanding of intellectual property and its commercialization lags behind Canada. While Poland was hindered by the long period of communist control, Canada currently enjoys the highest R&D spending per capita out of all G7 countries. The Governor General spoke of the world famous Canadian products made by BlackBerry, Bombardier, Pratt and Whitney (all with a presence in Poland), and also the Canada Arm on the International Space Station. Sharing “know how” between the two countries has tremendous potential for both nations and round table discussions put a spotlight on the opportunities.
Economically, Poland was dubbed “the green island” in a sea of red over the last 5 years due to its strong growth compared to its EU partners. Questions began to rise of how sustainable this trend can be over the long term? During our visit to the Warsaw Stock Exchange discussions highlighted a few concerns. Poland’s young economy advanced quickly after the process of initial privatization; its entry into the EU made Poland one of the largest recipients of EU funds which further fueled expansion. Currently Poland needs to focus on more sophisticated mechanisms for economic growth to progress through new challenges. This is where the conversation of collaboration began taking shape.
The driving force for economic growth in developed countries is innovation (vs. adaptation). One such example came from our own delegation, D.r G Jackowski, a Canadian entrepreneur. During two round table discussions Dr. Jackowski highlighted how the Polish system can adapt sophisticated mechanisms for innovation used in North America for future growth. His own experience is marked with over 140 patents, he has built and sold more than 12 companies reaching into the $100s of millions, and has assisted 16 other ventures in taking flight. From these discussions it was clear that Poland was ready and motivated to advance its strong progress and expressed an interest in pursuing opportunities for collaboration with Canadian counterparts.
Canada’s official mission in Poland is headed by Ambassador Alex Bugailiskis who accompanied the Governor General throughout the visit. He underlined the support the Embassy is ready to provide for new collaborative initiatives. The Canadian Trade Commissioner, Nicolas Lepage, further highlighted opportunities for developing business ventures and the tools that the Canadian Embassy has to offer to interested parties.
The four day visit covered a lot of ground; the highlight for me was the experience while standing in the courtyard of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw with fellow Canadian delegates and the Canadian Ambassador on one side, official representatives of the Polish Government on the other side, the President of the Republic of Poland and his wife in the center. There, shortly after the arrival of the Governor General of Canada and his wife, both heads of state greeted all present and we heard the Canadian and Polish National anthems. I have heard these two anthems being played on previous occasions, however not in the presence of the two heads of state with both Canadian and Polish soldiers standing on guard. This was a unique emotional experience.
The wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was another moving experience. I remember watching, as a young boy, when foreign diplomats paid their respects at this site. During our delegation’s visit with the Governor General I realized I was standing there as part of that diplomatic corpus, doing what I admired so many times on TV.
The next phase of the visit was in Kraków, which began with a wreath-laying ceremony at the special section of the Rakowicki Cemetery reserved for Commonwealth soldiers, most of whom died while in German POW camps, and Commonwealth airmen, among them Canadians, who died while flying supply missions to the Warsaw uprising.
The Voivode (Governor) of Kraków hosted a dinner for the delegation at the Wierzynek restaurant in Kraków’s great market square. One of the oldest restaurants in Europe, its origins date back to 1364 when a feast was prepared for Casimir the Great.
We then visited the Jagiellonian University and the Polish Association of Canadian Studies where his Excellency conferred a medallion on Marcin Gabrys, President of the Association. We learned the history of the Wawel Castle and its important connection to Canada. The priceless tapestries of Wawel Castle were smuggled to Canada for safekeeping soon after the outbreak of WWII. Lastly, we made the unforgettable visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau, where we saw the horrific evidence of human failure. Overall, the visit to Kraków gave depth to the trip, highlighting the history of Poland.
Traveling with the Governor General was a unique experience. The schedule was packed and carefully planned, and thanks are due to the staff of Rideau Hall and the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw for the hard work and support.
The state visit by the Governor General of Canada to Poland put a spotlight on the warm relationship and the opportunities shared by the two countries. Having Polish roots and growing up in the wonderful country of Canada gives us a unique ability to further the mutually beneficial interests of both nations. I believe Canadian Poles, including the young generation, have an opportunity to be active players in taking these steps. It can also be an adventure.