Anthony Rota has resigned as Speaker of the House of Commons days after he honoured a Ukrainian veteran who fought with the Nazis as a “hero.”
During Friday’s special session of parliament for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Rota recognized 98-year old Yaroslav Hunka, who fought with the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. Hunka, a constituent of Rota’s Nipissing—Timiskaming riding, received a standing ovation from all members of parliament present.
Rota had earlier apologized, though this did not assuage calls for him to step aside.
He announced his resignation with a “heavy heart” in the House of Commons Tuesday afternoon.
“It has been my greatest honour as a Parliamentarian to have been elected by you, my peers, to serve as Speaker of the House of Commons for the 43rd and 44th Parliament,” Rota said. “I have acted as your humble servant of this house, carrying out the important responsibilities of this position to the very best of my abilities.”
Rota referenced the “pain” Friday’s recognition of Hunka has caused people, reiterating that he accepts “full responsibility.”
Rota received applause from MPs after his announcement. His resignation will take place at the end of the day Wednesday, though deputy speakers will chair House sittings before then.
Rota will continue to serve as a Liberal member of parliament, though it’s unclear whether he’ll face any repercussions in caucus.
NDP Leader Peter Julian was the first to call on Rota to step down.
“The Speaker has to be above reproach,” Julian said. “This is an unforgivable error that puts the entire House in disrepute. Unfortunately, I believe a sacred trust has been broken.”
Julian said Rota’s apology was “not enough.” These sentiments were echoed by the Bloc Quebecois, who called for Rota’s resignation Monday afternoon.
By Tuesday morning, the Liberals had also joined the chorus.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly called the incident “completely unacceptable.”
“It was an embarrassment to the House and to Canadians, and I think the Speaker should listen to members of the House and step down,” she said.
Joly’s comments were a departure from the approach taken by Liberal House Leader Karina Gould a day earlier. On Monday, Gould expressed her disappointment in the Speaker but stopped short of calling for his resignation.
Gould herself struck a different chord Tuesday, saying Rota would not continue to have the support of Liberal members of parliament and should step down.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said House leaders from the respective parties would be having “very important conversations” Tuesday.
“I’m sure (Rota) is reflecting now on how to ensure the dignity of the House going forward,” Trudeau said. “I know that House leaders are going to be meeting later this morning and I’m sure they will have very important conversations.”
The Conservatives initially tried to lay the blame at Trudeau’s feet rather than Rota’s, but ultimately called on Rota to resign.
“Trudeau (and his Liberal Speaker) have brought shame on Canada,” Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre wrote in a statement Tuesday. “The Liberal Speaker will have to resign. But that does not excuse Justin Trudeau’s failure to have his massive diplomatic and intelligence apparatus vet and prevent honouring a Nazi.”