Anthony Rota bowed to increasing pressure on Tuesday with the unprecedented announcement that he would resign as Speaker of the House of Commons over his decision to invite a member of a Nazi unit to the House during an official visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
While Mr. Rota is the eighth House Speaker to resign, he is the first to step down over a controversy that garnered international headlines. The circumstances of his departure were highly unusual, causing a moment of embarrassment for parliamentarians because all MPs present in the Commons on Friday for Mr. Zelensky’s speech gave two standing ovations in honour of Yaraslov Hunka.
Mr. Rota said the work of the House is above any “one of us” and therefore he had to step down as Speaker.
“I reiterate my profound regret for my error in recognizing an individual in the House during the joint address to Parliament by President Zelensky,” Mr. Rota said Tuesday.
Mr. Rota, a 62-year-old former city councillor in North Bay was an MP in his riding from 2004 to 2011, and then re-elected in 2019. He has been Speaker since 2019 and was re-elected in 2021.
Prior to announcing his resignation, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly called what happened on Friday “completely unacceptable.”
“It was an embarrassment to the House and to Canadians,” she said. “I think the speaker should listen to members of the House and step down.”
Government House Leader Karina Gould also said it is time for Mr. Rota to exit his position.
“I can’t see, based on the conversations I have had, how he can continue to have the support of Liberal members of Parliament. I think it’s time for him to do the honourable thing,” Ms. Gould said as she arrived for Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter, that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Speaker, who is a Liberal MP, have “brought shame on Canada” and that Mr. Rota “will have to resign.”
House of Commons Speaker Anthony Rota resigned from his post on Sept. 26 after he invited to Parliament a man who once fought with Nazis in Ukraine in the Second World War. Government and opposition parties say his resignation is the right move.
The Canadian Press
“That does not excuse Justin Trudeau’s failure to have his massive diplomatic and intelligence apparatus vet and prevent honouring a Nazi,” Mr. Poilievre said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told a news conference on Parliament Hill that the incident caused hurt to the Jewish community and harmed the efforts of Ukraine.
“In fact, already the incident is being used by Russian propaganda,” Mr. Singh said, adding it has also damaged the international reputation of Canada.
Mr. Singh also said Mr. Trudeau invited Ukraine’s President to the Commons and that the purpose of Mr. Zelensky’s visit was to bolster support for Ukraine. The NDP leader said, however, that the visit has now harmed Ukraine’s efforts and Mr. Trudeau must show leadership and a plan to address this.
Speaking earlier Tuesday ahead of cabinet, Mr. Trudeau called the moment “deeply embarrassing for the House and for Canada.” He also said it was a “good thing” that Mr. Rota had apologized personally.
Mr. Rota met Tuesday with the parliamentary House Leaders.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center also issued a statement on Tuesday calling for Mr. Rota to resign.
The organization said that while Mr. Rota has apologized, the incident “compromised all 338 Members of Parliament and has also handed a propaganda victory to Russia, distracting from what was a momentously significant display of unity between Canada and Ukraine.”
“It has also caused great pain to Canada’s Jewish community, Holocaust survivors, veterans and other victims of the Nazi regime,” the organization said.
The centre also called for the Parliamentary Procedure and House Affairs Committee to hold public hearings to investigate what took place, vetting process failures and propose measures to ensure that no such incident could ever happen again.
Mr. Rota apologized to the House of Commons for his error in judgment on Monday.
“It was my decision and I apologize profusely,” Mr. Rota said. “It may not be good enough for some of you, and for that I apologize.”
Retired Conservative senator Noel Kinsella, the second-longest-serving Speaker in the Senate, said Tuesday that Mr. Rota’s staff had let him down by failing to do a proper background check on Mr. Hunka.
Mr. Kinsella, said, however, that did not absolve the Commons Speaker of his responsibility to do the right thing.
“What happened is an offence to President Zelensky and against the memory of the Jewish community,” the former speaker, who served from 2006 to 2014, said. “It is going international and it is hurting Canada and Parliament’s reputation.”
Poland’s education minister Przemysław Czarnek said on X that he had taken steps toward the possible extradition of Mr. Hunka.
The last Speaker of the House of Commons to resign was John Bosley in 1986. Amid criticism of his office, Mr. Bosley stepped down to sit as a Progressive Conservative backbencher. At the time, the Progressive Conservatives had a majority government under prime minister Brian Mulroney.
The exit came after turmoil in the Commons in which Mr. Bosley was insulted continually by opposition MPs and cabinet ministers, who raised concerns about the questions he allowed. Also, there were concerns about the cost of the renovation of the Speaker’s residence.
Mr. Bosley was the seventh speaker in Canadian history to quit.
With files from Robert Fife and Stephanie Chambers.