“God give us men. A time like this demands strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands. Men whom the lust for office cannot kill. Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy. Men of honour. Men who will not lie. Men who can stand before a demagogue and damn his treacherous flatteries without blinking. Tall men; sun crowned, who stand above the fog in private thinking and in public office.” Such a man was Joseph Borowski. When asked to write a column on the late Joe Borowski, I realized that, while knowing and admiring him, I knew very little about his earlier background. On advice from The Interim staff, I read the story of Joe in the wonderful book by Grace Petrasek, “Silhouettes Against the Snow.” The title of the chapter is, “Prairie Rebel” and it is certainly well chosen. What follows is more or less a summary of Grace’s chapter on Joe, written about 1991.

Early background

Joe was born on a farm in Wishart, Saskatchewan in 1932, of poor Polish immigrant parents. He was the fourth of 10 children, five boys and five girls. During the summer, the children walked three miles to school barefooted and in light rubber footwear in winter, because there was no money to buy boots. Joe finished school after Grade six and then went to work, aged 14. It would take too much space to describe the number of jobs at which he worked – in bush camps, in a restaurant, where he trained as a cook, in the INCO nickel mines, from which he was fired for taking a stand against the unhealthy conditions in which the employees laboured.

In 1952 Joe married a pretty girl named Jean, whom he had met at a barn dance. In 1953 they both list their jobs because of the poor economy. But, to quote Grace, “They pooled their culinary skills and opened the first official restaurant, in Waynyard, Jean’s home town.” It became famous for its “Hawaiian Steak and Chicken,” served with apple juice. Later Jean ran the restaurant herself and Joe worked in the wood-cutting business with his brother.

By 1968, Joe had become well known and well liked in Manitoba. So, when a vacancy occurred in the Manitoba government, his union friends suggested that he should run as an NDP candidate. With his Grade 6 education, he felt he did not qualify. But eventually he agreed and won by a large margin. The local press called Joe, “Landslide Borowski.” To his surprise he was appointed to the important but difficult ministry of Public Works and Highways.

Pro-life challenge

About a year after his election a doctor phoned Joe and accused the NDP of being hypocrites for giving government funding to Manitoba women to have abortions in New York. Joe Knew nothing about this as it was not his department. But he checked and found it was true. He was shocked and in his own words, “All hell broke loose.” After a summer trying unsuccessfully to stop government funding for abortion, he resigned his cabinet position on September 8 1971. He sat as an independent for the remainder of his four year term as an MLA.

By avid reading, Joe had become a self-educated man and everyone who knew him realized that he was a man of high intelligence. He had always been interested in health foods and attended lectures at a health school in Texas. Later he wrote a book entitled “Borowski Ethnic Cookbook.” He named the recipes after well known politicians such as, “Ed Broadbent’s Pie in the Sky” And “Trudeau’s Ship wreck Casserole.” In 1977 he opened “Joe Borowski’s Health Store.” Jean and their three daughters helped to run the store during Joe’s frequent absences on pro-life travels. The business has been quite a success and Joe continued to run it till shortly before his death.

I had always known Joe as a very ardent Catholic and was surprised to read that, at the age of 23 he left the Church because of Her position on birth control. He stopped attending Sunday Mass, but jean and the girls continued. Joe attended now and then but did not receive the Sacraments as a matter of principle. However, when Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” on the evil of contraception appeared, Joe had to make a decision. He would have to accept the Church’s teaching or leave altogether, which was to remain with the church. Since then till his last illness, he has attended Mass daily and received Holy Communion.

Refusal to pay taxes

Before Joe resigned from his cabinet position in 1971, he informed the Legislature that he would not pay income tax “as long as one cent went towards child murder before birth.” He was fined and refused to pay the fine. He was put in jail twice, for a total of 25 days. The Government put a lien on his store, but he refused to pay income tax. They seized his brand new car and sold it at public auction and kept the money as credit towards his unpaid taxes. Later they seized funds from the “Alliance Against Abortion” a political pro-life action group, founded by Joe and a group of professionals and businessmen. Joe caused such an outcry that the money was returned within a week.

Hunger strike

For this paragraph I cannot do better than quote directly from Grace Petrasek’s article on Joe. “When Prime Minister Trudeau brought forward his proposal for a new Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1980, providing no protection for the unborn child, Joe decided to make a personal sacrifice. He would go on hunger strike to draw attention to the need for prayers and atonement in a battle primarily spiritual. In 1981, he held a conference to announce a 90 day fast; the length of time the human body can stand without death occurring … After 80 days of fasting, Joe was informed by the Papal Nuncio to Canada, that the Holy Father had requested him to discontinue his fast. Joe obeyed and began to eat again.” Joe brought a case before the Supreme Court to try to prove that the Criminal Code’s section concerning abortion was invalid, because the unborn child is a human being. In spite of the evidence of some of the greatest names in fetology, such as Dr. Jerome Le Jeune of Paris, Sir William Liley of New Zealand, Dr. Bernard Nathanson of the U.S., the case was dismissed and – in the eyes of the law – the unborn child remains a “nonentity.”

From a worldly viewpoint, Joe failed in his many efforts in defence of the unborn. Spiritually speaking he was a resounding success. He has left behind him a legacy, which will inspire many to walk in his footsteps. Thank you Joe.