Multiple Liberal cabinet ministers say they believe Anthony Rota’s days as House of Commons Speaker are numbered, Radio-Canada has learned.
That Rota is still in the job causes discomfort in the Liberal caucus, sources told Radio-Canada, after he invited a Ukrainian veteran who fought in a Nazi unit to watch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s speech to Parliament on Friday.
The opposition parties could force a vote on a motion in the House of Commons calling for the Speaker to step down. If that happens, several influential members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet told Radio-Canada they can’t imagine a scenario where Liberal MPs would vote to save Rota’s skin.
Radio-Canada spoke with five sources — including cabinet ministers and MPs — who spoke on condition of confidentiality because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
While Rota is a Liberal MP, the Speaker is elected by all members of the House.
Publicly on Monday, no Liberal MPs called for Rota to go. But behind the scenes, many believe that Rota’s departure has become inevitable, sources told Radio-Canada. Several members of the Liberal caucus say they are unable to consider supporting Rota in a possible vote in the Commons.
“If we voted in favour of him, it would be as if we were endorsing the action he took last week,” a Liberal source told Radio-Canada. “Being stubborn and staying there embarrasses everyone, including the prime minister,” the source added.
“He has to go,” another source familiar with internal deliberations said.
The sources said the trust Rota needs to do his job well is now broken.
“A Speaker cannot continue without the confidence of the chamber,” one cabinet member told Radio-Canada.
“It’s impossible for him to get through this if there is a vote,” another cabinet member said.
Rota extended an invitation to Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old Ukrainian Canadian who now lives in North Bay, Ont., to witness Zelenskyy’s address to Parliament on Friday. Rota had praised Hunka, a constituent of his Nipissing–Timiskaming riding, as a “Ukrainian hero” and a “Canadian hero” and prompted a standing ovation for the man.
During the Second World War, when Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, some Ukrainian nationalists joined Nazi units because they viewed the Germans as liberators from Soviet oppression. CBC News reported Sunday that Hunka fought in the 1st Galician division, a branch of Nazi Germany’s Waffen-SS.
The Speaker apologized to MPs in person at the opening of Parliament on Monday. Rota said he personally regrets inviting this constituent and giving him attention after Zelenskyy’s remarks.
The Liberal cabinet meets every Tuesday morning. Cabinet will meet before the noon meeting with Rota and the House Leaders. Generally, part of the meeting is devoted to more political discussions. Today, at least one minister expects the Rota affair to be the topic of discussion.
“I’d be surprised if we didn’t talk about it,” a minister said.
Speaking briefly to reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stopped short of calling for Rota to step aside from the role he’s held since 2019.
“It’s extremely upsetting that this happened. The Speaker has acknowledged his mistake and has apologized,” Trudeau said. “But this is something that is deeply embarrassing to the Parliament of Canada and by extension to all Canadians.”
‘Everyone was stunned’
After the controversy exploded over the weekend, some MPs were surprised to see Rota presiding over the proceedings of the chamber on Monday, sources told Radio-Canada.
“Everyone was stunned,” says one Liberal MP.
Many Liberal MPs expected that Chris d’Entremont, the Conservative MP and a deputy speaker, would preside over Monday’s proceedings.
The NDP and Bloc Québécois have both called for Rota’s resignation as Speaker. The two opposition parties said it’s not enough for Rota to apologize for inviting Hunka to the day’s festivities.
Rota is expected to hold a meeting with the government and opposition House leaders at noon on Tuesday, sources tell CBC News and Radio-Canada.
The Bloc Québécois originally requested the meeting with Rota and the other parties’ House leaders, according to a letter obtained by CBC News. The letter, from Bloc House leader Alain Therrien, said Hunka’s invitation has created “a crisis of confidence without precedent” in the House of Commons.
Conservatives on the attack
Unlike the NDP and the Bloc Québécois, the Conservatives did not demand Rota’s resignation. Instead, they accused the Prime Minister’s Office of not having adequately checked the backgrounds of participants who came to see and hear Zelenskyy in the House of Commons.
Some Liberals believe the only way to calm things down is to cut ties with Speaker Rota.
“The longer he stays, the more it continues, the more problems he causes us,” a government official said.