As this newspaper went to press – remember when we said things like that? – Anthony Rota had not resigned as Speaker of the House of Commons. This is surprising.
After all, Mr. Rota inadvertently invited a man who served in an infamous Waffen SS unit during the Second World War to attend Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to the House of Commons, Friday.
Mr. Rota even singled him out for praise, leading Mr. Zelensky and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to rise and applaud the man’s presence. The Russian propaganda machine is having a field day. The ambassador of the Polish government in Canada has demanded an apology.
Also at press time, Mr. Trudeau had not issued an apology to Poland, to Ukraine, to Canadians, to Jews around the world. This is also surprising.
Whatever the Speaker might or might not have done, Canada caused grave offence by having such a person present for Mr. Zelensky’s speech. In such matters, the prime minister speaks for the country, and must apologize on the country’s behalf.
That neither the resignation nor the apology were forthcoming first thing Monday morning speaks to the unwillingness of people in public life today to accept responsibility for their actions. It speaks as well to the diminishment of Canada’s place in the world on Mr. Trudeau’s watch.
Mr. Rota’s decision not to step down is remarkable. Both the NDP and the Bloc Québécois called for his resignation. Liberal House Leader Karina Gould, while not explicitly saying as much, appeared to agree.
“As Parliamentarians, we place our trust in you,” she told the ashen-faced Speaker, Monday morning. Standing and applauding such a figure on such a day in such a place was “a deeply hurtful moment,” she told the House, “and many of us in this chamber feel that hurt acutely.”
One suspects that if a motion to censure the Speaker were put before the House, Ms. Gould and many other Liberals would vote yea.
The Conservatives, of course, blamed the government for this “massive diplomatic embarrassment and shame,” as Leader Pierre Poilievre put it. We can go back and forth over who was responsible for vetting what. But the Liberals will wear this, regardless.
After all, this was the government that invited a man who attempted to assassinate an Indian politician to an event during Mr. Trudeau’s disastrous 2018 trip to India.
Things have not gotten better. Canada’s allies were studiously vague, last week, when responding to Mr. Trudeau’s accusation of possible Indian government complicity in the killing in Vancouver of a Sikh community leader.
Take the lack of international solidarity over India and add in Friday’s triumph-turned-catastrophe in the House over Ukraine, and this was the “worst week for Canadian diplomacy in I can’t remember how long,” Ian Bremmer, founder of the consulting firm Eurasia Group, tweeted Monday.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters Monday: “This is something that is deeply embarrassing to the Parliament of Canada, and by extension to all Canadians.” He must know that only he, on behalf of all Canadians, can issue the necessary apology, however much it hurts him politically.
Mr. Trudeau’s foreign policy has had good days: European, Pacific and American trade agreements. Impressively firm solidarity with Ukraine.
But the failures outweigh the successes. The Liberals hoped to improve relations with China. There isn’t space to list all the mistakes and misdeeds that led to the current deep freeze. He hoped to improve relations with India. Look where things are at.
In his tweet, Mr. Bremmer added: “the only canada relationship that really matters is with the united states, and that’s doing just fine.”
Not really, Mr. Bremmer. American support for Canada in the wake of Mr. Trudeau’s allegations against India last week was tepid at best. Then there is AUKUS and Quad. These abbreviations refer to recently created Indo-Pacific alliances led by the United States. Canada was invited to join neither of them. AUKUS, not CAUKUS; Quad, not Quint.
Had Canada lived up to its commitments, especially by spending appropriately on defence, there might have been more good will toward Canada these days. The embarrassment of the Speaker’s invitation might have been shrugged off.
Instead, this becomes another in a long the list of embarrassments. Too many.