A New Speaker for Canada After a Misstep That ‘Deeply Embarrassed Parliament’


It was President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine’s first trip to Canada since Russia’s full-scale invasion of his country. And its high point was an address by Mr. Zelensky to a joint session of Parliament last week that provoked waves of applause.

Some of that applause was for a 98-year-old Ukrainian man, Yaroslav Hunka, who was invited to the House of Commons by Anthony Rota, the speaker. Mr. Hunka was a “hero,” Mr. Rota told members of Parliament and guests. Jewish groups quickly pointed out that Mr. Hunka had actually been a member of a volunteer Nazi group that fought alongside Germany in World War II.

Mr. Rota apologized and resigned days later, following a growing outcry.

“This was a mistake that has deeply embarrassed Parliament and Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week before apologizing on Parliament’s behalf on Wednesday.

The episode has cast a spotlight on a lesser-known but quietly powerful role in Canada’s parliamentary tradition.

My colleague Ian Austen covered the fallout of Mr. Rota’s blunder. Here’s how Ian described the speaker’s role in his reporting:

“While Mr. Rota is a member of Parliament from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, he is not a political power broker like his counterpart in the U.S. House of Representatives. Speakers in the Canadian House of Commons act as nonpartisan adjudicators in the chamber and are independent of the government. The speaker, not the government, controls all activity and conduct within the chamber, as well as its employees.”

[Read Ian’s story: Canadian Speaker in House of Commons Quits After Honoring Ukrainian Who Fought for Nazis]

Swapping speakers is rare. The few previous resignations happened when Parliament was prorogued (or not in session), or during a regularly scheduled break, said Steven Chaplin, a fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Public Law Centre.

“There have been no resignations in these kinds of circumstances in Canadian history,” Mr. Chaplin told me.

“What they did this time, which was unique, is they created this position, basically, of interim speaker, so the house could continue to sit,” he added. “This is the first time this has ever happened.”

The vote for a new speaker will proceed by ranked ballot on Tuesday, and members of Parliament are automatically considered for the role unless they choose to withdraw, which they can do by Monday night. If two members end up with equal numbers of votes on Tuesday, the house will vote a second time to break the tie, Mr. Chaplin said.

Louis Plamondon, the longest-serving member of Parliament — a distinction known as the dean — is serving as interim speaker until then. Mr. Plamondon is a member of the Bloc Québécois, a party that champions independence for Quebec.

“Thank you for the unanimous support that you have given me,” Mr. Plamondon said, speaking in French during Thursday’s question period in the House of Commons. His five-day tenure, he noted, will distinguish him from his colleagues as having the longest career serving as a member of Parliament “but the shortest as a speaker.”

There are a handful of speaker-hopefuls that political observers are say will vie for the spot, including the former Green Party leader Elizabeth May. (CPAC, the Cable Public Affairs Channel, helpfully lists the names to look out for here.)

Whoever wins will get an immediate annual pay bump of about 92,800 Canadian dollars for the role, on top of the 194,600-dollar salary as a member of Parliament. The speaker also has an official residence called the Farm, a four-acre property in the Gatineau Park across from Ottawa in west Quebec — though that’s hardly a draw given its inconvenient distance from work and its state of disrepair. The National Capital Commission, a crown corporation that maintains official residences, said the estate needed at least 1.34 million Canadian dollars’ worth of renovation.

Whoever gets control of the house is likely to have his or her hands full if the rowdy tenor of some recent exchanges is any indication.

“Mr. Speaker, if the prime minister were so proud of how he conducted himself, he would be on the floor in the House of the Commons today answering questions instead of hiding under a rock,” Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative Party and the official opposition, said during the question period on Monday.

Mr. Rota reminded him that by bringing up the absence of another member of Parliament, as members perform “duties in the chamber and outside,” Mr. Poilievre was breaking the rules.


  • “I’ve spent a lot of hours on the beach of Lake Erie, here where I live, just trying to heal,” Kim Prosser told me. Her son, Ashtyn, recently died by suicide. The Canadian police charged Kenneth Law, a cook from Mississauga, Ontario, with aiding in the suicides of 14 people in Ontario, in cases including that of Ms. Prosser’s son. Mr. Law, 57, appeared in court this week.

  • Quebec is getting a new factory for electric car batteries.

  • Our colleagues in India reported on how Sikh separatism is viewed in the country in the wake of allegations that India was behind the assassination of a Sikh leader in British Columbia. Some Indians are in limbo amid the diplomatic firestorm, writes Suhasini Raj, a reporter based in New Delhi.

  • Peter Nygard, the disgraced executive behind a global fashion brand, appeared in a downtown Toronto courtroom this week for the start of his trial on sexual assault charges.

  • Endel Tulving, the University of Toronto professor whose groundbreaking studies of memory made him one of the leading cognitive psychologists of the 20th century, died in Mississauga, Ontario. He was 96.

  • Unifor, the Canadian labor union that represents about 5,600 autoworkers, ratified a new contract with Ford Motor.


Vjosa Isai is a reporter-researcher for The New York Times in Toronto.


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