Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday September 27, 2023
Speaker Resigns: A Necessary Step to Preserve the Dignity of Parliament
Anthony Rota’s resignation as Speaker of the House of Commons is a rare but necessary step in the wake of an embarrassing incident that shook the foundations of Parliament. Rota’s invitation to and recognition of Yaroslav Hunka, a man with ties to a Nazi unit from World War II, revealed a shocking lapse in due diligence and fact-checking, which are essential when recognizing invited visitors to the House of Commons gallery. This incident was not merely a mistake; it was a grave error that compromised the dignity and reputation of Canada’s highest legislative body.
Rota’s initial introduction of Hunka as a “Ukrainian Canadian war veteran who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” was met with a standing ovation from MPs. However, the subsequent revelation of Hunka’s involvement with the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, a Nazi unit, shocked the nation. Rota promptly issued apologies, taking full responsibility for the oversight, but the damage had been done.
In a parliamentary system, the Speaker holds a position of immense responsibility and trust. The Speaker is expected to operate outside of partisan lines, maintaining impartiality to sustain the trust and goodwill of the House. Rota’s failure to uphold this impartiality and to adequately vet a visitor to the House of Commons demonstrated incompetence that cast doubt on his ability to lead with the required impartiality.
The resignation of Speaker Rota was not merely a gesture of contrition; it was a necessary step to restore the dignity of Parliament. MPs from all parties rightly called for him to step down, recognizing that his continued presence in the Speaker’s chair would further tarnish the reputation of the institution. NDP House Leader Peter Julian aptly noted that putting the institution first was the right decision.
Moreover, the incident had wider implications, reaching beyond the borders of Canada. It was exploited as propaganda by Russia, feeding their narrative about de-Nazifying Ukraine. This gave the incident international notoriety, making it an even graver lapse in judgment.
It is important to acknowledge that the Speaker’s role is one of neutrality and decorum, making the error in inviting and recognizing Hunka all the more egregious. The Speaker’s conduct should serve as an example to all parliamentarians and Canadians, and any deviation from this standard erodes the foundations of our democracy.
Now, as the House moves forward to elect a new Speaker, it is crucial that the process is transparent and reflects the values of impartiality and integrity. Canadians deserve a Speaker who can fulfill their duties with diligence and uphold the honor of the House of Commons. Rota’s resignation, while regrettable, serves as a reminder that no one is above the standards and expectations that define our democratic institutions.
In conclusion, Speaker Anthony Rota’s resignation was a necessary and appropriate response to an embarrassing and damaging incident. It was an act of accountability and a recognition that the dignity and trust of Parliament must always be preserved. As Canadians, we should look to this moment as an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to the principles that underpin our democracy, and to ensure that such lapses in judgment do not happen again in the future. (AI)