Elaine Ziemba is a former politician in Ontario, Canada. She was a New Democratic Party member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, and served as a cabinet minister in the government of Bob Rae.
Before entering political life, Ziemba was executive director of the St. Clair West Meals-on-Wheels and president of the Metro Toronto Federation of Community-based Seniors' Agencies, and was strongly involved in activities involving Toronto's Polish community. She also wrote articles on the history of canoeing in Canada during the 1980s. One of her relatives, Ed Ziemba, represented the Toronto riding of High Park—Swansea for the Ontario NDP from 1975 to 1981.
Ziemba first ran for the Ontario legislature in the 1985 provincial election, but lost to Progressive Conservative incumbent Yuri Shymko by 330 votes. She ran again in the 1987 provincial election and finished third, behind Shymko and the winner, Liberal David Fleet.
The NDP won an unexpected majority government in the 1990 provincial election, and Ziemba was elected over Fleet by over 3,000 votes. As a prominent member of the NDP's Toronto caucus, Ziemba was appointed Minister of Citizenship with responsibility for Disabled Persons and Seniors.
In 1992, Ziemba's department passed an "Advocacy Act" enshrining the right of consumers to accurate information. Two years later, in a cabinet discussion on pharmaceutial imports, she spoke out against listing a generic alternative to Vasotec, on the grounds that it would cause confusion among consumers.
Ziemba's most controversial ministerial decisions involved the issue of employment equity. She was given control of this file at the beginning of the Rae government's mandate, and quickly hired Juanita Westmoreland-Traoré as an employment equity commissioner to draft legislation on the subject. One of Westmoreland-Traoré's first decisions was to reject all previous government studies on the issue; some in Ziemba's department regarded all such research as racist and flawed. The department eventually decided that four "disadvantaged groups" -- women, racial minorities, the disabled and aboriginals -- would be targeted for measures reversing historical discrimination. (There was some disappointment within Ontario's gay community when homosexuals were left off the list.)
Ziemba's department produced a discussion paper on the subject in early 1991, but it was rejected by the Rae government (one senior government official later described it as "sophomoric and polemical"). Rae generally favoured a more cautious approach than Ziemba and Westmoreland-Traoré, and the legislation was stalled for several months. One key disagreement was the issue of interference with unions -- Westmoreland-Traoré wanted to overrule existing seniority rights, an approach which many in the NDP opposed. In 1992, control over the issue was quietly shifted from Ziemba and Westmoreland-Traoré to the premier's office.
Compromise legislation on the subject was finally passed in December 1993. The bill, which Ziemba claimed was the strongest in North America, met with resistance from both the left and right: traditional supporters of employment equity claimed it did not go far enough, while others condemned the project as racist.
Opposition to the employment equity policy was extensive. Even the centre-left Toronto Star newspaper, which supported the NDP on some issues, was highly critical of the government's approach. Journalists such as Richard Gwyn and Thomas Walkom described the legislation as flawed and misguided; Gwyn noted that unemployment among young males in Canada was 20.5% at the time, significantly higher than comparable numbers for young women. There is little doubt that the issue hurt the NDP's popularity among working-class white men, many of whom had previously supported the party.
The NDP were defeated in the 1995 provincial election, and Ziemba lost to Progressive Conservative candidate Derwyn Shea by fewer than 2,000 votes in High Park—Swansea. She has not stood for re-election since this time.