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I Can't Believe I Have to Say This: Speaker Anthony Rota Should Resign
Rota can no longer command the authority and trust he needs to manage the proceedings of the House of Commons. He's got to go. Now.
Note: My Tuesday post is early this week. Given the importance of this issue, and given how quickly it’s developing, I wanted to share this right away. Next week, I’ll return to the usual Tuesday schedule. Thank you for reading.
You’d think if ever there was a reason to resign, welcoming a man who fought for a Nazi SS division in the Second World War to the House of Commons would be it. And yet, here we are.
On Friday, House Speaker Anthony Rota introduced Ukrainian veteranYaroslav Hunka as “Canadian hero” and a “Ukrainian hero” before thanking him for his service. He noted that Hunka “fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians.” That statement ought to have given everyone in the room cause to think about who they were welcoming. To have fought against in the Russians in 1943 was to have for the Nazis. The assembled members of Parliament and visitors gallery then gave Hunka a standing ovation.
On Sunday, Rota apologized and emphasized that “no one, including fellow parliamentarians and the Ukraine delegation, was aware of my intention or of my remarks before I delivered them.” He took “full responsibility” and said “the initiative was entirely my own.” Hunka, he noted, is a constituent of his. On Monday, he apologized to the House. It’s not precisely clear whose idea it was to invite Hunka or how his past escaped sufficient scrutiny. But the buck stops with Rota. That much is clear.
Rota’s statements establish that he is responsible for the Hunka affair — he claims as much — which has hurt Jewish communities in Canada and abroad and plenty of others. It’s also embarrassed the Commons and, indeed, the country. The New Democratic Party and the Bloc Quebecois have called for his resignation. So far, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party have not. But there is no world in which they are pleased with Rota, even if the Tories are keen to try to make this mess appear to be Justin Trudeau’s fault (which it isn’t).
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The question now isn’t whether Rota should or shouldn’t resign, but rather whether he will, à la Liz Truss, outlive a head of lettuce. Of course, he should resign. I believe he will in time. If he doesn’t, someone in the House of Commons will introduce a motion asking him to leave. In the meantime, public pressure will mount and the whole sordid affair will distract us further from conversations about our history and world history, from dealing with pharmacare and affordability measures, from navigating India’s assassination of a Canadian on Canadian soil, and more. We have serious matters to attend to and only so much time and attention, which is all too easily spent on last week’s travesty in the Commons.
The Speaker of the House of Commons is tasked with presiding over the legislature, refereeing its proceedings, and manging critical elements of its functioning. Parliament’s website has a great rundown of precisely what the speaker’s job entails, including maintaining order and decorum, ruling on questions from the chamber, remaining impartial, acting as a spokesperson for the Commons, managing internal affairs, and hosting visitors.
In what world can Rota now carry out these duties free from distraction and with the full trust and confidence of members of Parliament? In what world can he now welcome visitors? In what world can he act as a spokesperson for the House?
Today, Rota presided over Question Period in which the topic off the top was, you guessed it, Hunka’s visit to the House. It was awkward, to say the least. More to the point, it was untenable. This isn’t the last day we’ll hear of this story inside or outside of Parliament.
I have no reason to doubt, as I’ve heard, that Rota is an affable man of integrity. I have no reason to doubt he made a mistake for which he’s awfully responsible and awfully sorry. But he made an offensive and egregious error of considerable significance. I have every reason to doubt whether in light of his “initiative” and his office’s failure to do its due diligence on the Hunka invitation he can continue to command the respect and authority required to act as speaker of the House of Commons. He can’t. He’s become a sideshow. The honourable thing to do — the accountable thing to do — is to quit.
After Rota resigns, the House will choose a new speaker. After that, it can focus on atoning for the Hunka affair and proceeding with the priorities that Canadians need them to deliver on. The speaker’s office can then focus on establishing — or at the very least reviewing — protocols to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. This is the correct and morally proper course of action. We will get there. The sooner we do, the better.