Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to Canada looking for support for his war against Russian aggression. Instead, he got a front-row seat to one of the biggest blunders in Canadian political history when Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota described a 98-year-old Ukrainian Second World War veteran sitting in the public gallery — one who fought for a Nazi Germany unit, as it turned out — as a “Canadian hero.” With friends like these, Zelenskyy must have thought, who needs the Russians?

That neither the Speaker (who finally resigned Tuesday) nor his staff could do the basic historical algebra here and figure out that a Ukrainian fighting against Russia was almost certainly fighting for the Nazis is embarrassing enough and ought to be grounds for both their termination and his resignation. Even worse is the propaganda win it handed to the current Russian government, one that has consistently argued its invasion is really about “de-Nazifying” Ukraine. But the collateral damage done to the reputation of Canada’s Parliament might be this fiasco’s most lasting effect — one that all the apologies in the world won’t be able to repair.

In fairness, that reputation wasn’t exactly unblemished to begin with. There was a different speech a week or so before Rota’s unfortunate contribution to the ages that underscored just how debased the democratic interactions of our elected representatives have become. Shuvaloy Majumdar, the star Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Calgary Heritage who won July’s byelection with ease, gave his first speech in the House on Sept. 18. He arrived with much fanfare, given his extensive background in international relations and foreign policy, and he was greeted with a warm round of applause from his Conservative colleagues. And what did he decide to use that moment to talk about?


“After eight years of raising carbon taxes on the farmers and truckers who bring us our food,” he said, “potatoes are up 68 per cent. Now he wants to quadruple the carbon tax to 61 cents per litre. How much more will that add to the price of potatoes?”

For those who don’t know the riding, the only potatoes grown in Calgary Heritage are the ones in people’s backyards and gardens. The federal carbon tax, meanwhile, has only been in place since 2019, which makes it four years, not eight. And as it happens, the price of potatoes is up more than 60 per cent over the last year in Idaho, a key potato-growing region that doesn’t have a carbon tax. The actual source of that price spike, ironically, is “prolonged high heat in much of the West,” which has hurt yields for a crop that tends to prefer cooler weather.

Majumdar’s second entry in the parliamentary record wasn’t much better. “The carbon tax is an attack on our way of life,” he said. “It is an attack on the many Calgarians I have met who are wondering how they are going to put food on the table. The prosperity they need rests with our energy sector, yet the very tax crushing them comes from right across the aisle.” That energy sector, of course, just finished a year marked by record-high profits on record-high production, and will deliver similar numbers in 2023. If this is a government “attacking” or “crushing” this way of life, we must have different definitions of those two words.

You might think, given the ongoing tensions with India both during and after the prime minister’s trip there, Majumdar might weigh in with his perspective on the issue. There are any number of other foreign policy files that could use his acumen and experience. Instead, he’s handed a script with turgid talking points about the carbon tax and asked to parrot the party line.

Maybe, in time, he’ll be allowed to actually showcase the talents and intellect that his supporters say are there. And maybe Majumdar is happy to play the role he’s been handed and wait until his party forms government, where he’d almost certainly be sitting on the front bench as a cabinet minister. But there’s clearly a tradeoff happening, one in which principle and personality are exchanged for the possibility of power. It happens on both sides of the aisle, among Conservatives and Liberals (and even New Democrats). And it diminishes the promise of public service and the appeal it holds to anyone with an independent spirit or a desire to do something other than stand and clap at the right (and sometimes horribly wrong) moments.

Speaker Anthony Rota's decision to invite a former Nazi into the House of Commons was an international embarrassment. But as a newly elected MP's performance shows, it's already well on the way to becoming a national one.

Things like democratic reform and parliamentary procedure are deeply unexciting to most voters, who would rather our elected officials focus on things like climate change, the cost of living and other issues that affect them directly. But the ongoing decline in Parliament’s relevance and respectability (and, yes, its collective intelligence) informs all of those issues, and the ability of our leaders to address them effectively. I don’t hold out much hope that either the Trudeau Liberals or the Poilievre Conservatives will fix this, given the former’s fatigue and the latter’s refusal to think in terms longer than a slogan. But at some point, we’re going to need to fix the way we do democracy in Canada and find ways to attract more and better people to its practice. If we don’t, the price of potatoes will be the least of our concerns.

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At least Rota's guest was fighting against the Russians.

However, I'm baffled that he didn't invite someone irreproachable instead, like the head of the Canada Ukraine Foundation.

"At least Rota's guest was fighting against the Russians." That's the problem. At the time the Russians were our allies so his guest was fighting against us. On one hand, it's an easy mistake for the speaker to make but, on the other hand, it's a tragic error. Especially since I've read the Poland is now talking about extraditing the old guy for war crimes.

Wars are what they are. Japan was an enemy at one point, but are now allies. So, should any Canadian who may have been involved during WW2 be condemned?

I wonder what war crimes the old guy committed if any or is this just an ongoing witch hunt for anyone who fought with Germany.

Really, it's understandable. If we're at war with Eurasia, as Mr. Orwell pointed out, we must have ALWAYS been at war with Eurasia.

The entire thing is ridiculous. Those were different times and I am sure any of us back 50-60 years ago may have had skeletons in our closet or took action based on the times. How would anyone feel that after all that time, you became a victim of something that long ago or even ruined your reputation or career. There are a lot of things many did or said 50-60 years ago that are no longer acceptable, but we don't spend time now condemning everyone for past transgressions.

This person will now be victimized for something they belonged to years ago. So, will we also go after every Russian involved in the current conflict in Ukraine and put them all in jail? How about every German who fought for Germany in the two wars. How about every US or Canadian soldier who committed questionable transgression in various wars?

The whole thing is just political nonsense and ridiculous. This ongoing witch hunt by groups needs to end and for people to move on. Who we all were 50-60 years ago is not who any of us are today. We moved on and it is time for everyone to move on and live in today's world, not dwell on the past.

This reminds me of one of many secretaries to Hitler or his headquarters who did not commit any crime, became a victim just be she was a secretary at the time. Let's go after the janitor next because he swept the floors at headquarters. This is just how petty and ridiculous this all is.

It seems as a human race, we are digressing and not evolving, where common sense has gone out the door with it.

This is not to condone or forgive anyone involved with the concentration camps and the needless extermination of people as was done by Hitler. That alone was major human tragedy, but what Russia is doing to innocent civilian people in the Ukraine currently is another major human tragedy that Putin and his henchman need to be accountable for.

Agreed John. I'm sure it's one of the perks of being older but to Max I say, perspective please. I'm a bit surprised how much he's lost his here by jumping on the latest CPC bandwagon du jour/feeding frenzy, right in lockstep with the rest of the media.
Recall that stoking the aforementioned has become not only their stock in trade but also their only real contribution, something they themselves have conceded by choosing an attack dog as leader which of course is the reason WHY parliamentary decorum and discourse have plummeted. It's 100% their doing and their fault, just as it was Anthony Rota's as speaker of the house. Never mind the facts though, not to mention the mercurial nature of war and/or "allies" from decades ago, just ride it hard until he reasonably resigns, then turn with dripping fangs to your real target to insist he "apologize" but even when he does insist that it's not enough. Like I said, a feeding frenzy WAY out of proportion as usual.
And even more perspective; it really is disingenuous to keep castigating political parties for either being "political" or for using different tactics or strategies to win, including "whipping" MP's when that power is needed to actually DO anything.
But come ON, only ONE political party and that is the Convoy Party of Canada (wasn't it your name for them Max, says it all) so baldly and indisputably exemplifies the ends justifying the means. So those "means" have NEVER been more despicable or dangerous than they are now. Never. How do so many people keep forgetting that; are they really that besotted with the excitement of the horse race? And the little niggling fact that they don't accept the science of climate change doesn't stick either?! It's both astonishing and truly depressing how easily distracted people are, no matter what.
And contributing to Russian propaganda is the WORST thing that happened in this latest trumped up (pun intended) debacle? That makes zero sense because we're talking about PROPAGANDA, remember? Have you forgotten that the definition is "biased or misleading information" so it makes NO difference what information is added under that premise.

Nobody has done anything to the guy or proposed doing anything to the guy, so your whole complaint is irrelevant. The point is, the Speaker of the House decided to try to get parliament to give a standing ovation to a guy because he fought Russia in a war where we and Russia were fighting the Nazis. And the point is, the Canadian Parliament should not be giving people who fought for the Nazis standing ovations. And the point is, the Speaker of the House should not be bringing people in without having their background checked, and certainly shouldn't be bringing people in to applaud their fighting in a war without bothering to find out what war they fought in.

All your stuff about letting bygones be bygones as long as we can't actually PROVE a guy in the only non-German Waffen SS formation ever to exist, that was, as a unit, responsible for major massacres of Jews and Poles, was personally responsible for any war crimes, is completely beside the point. The fact that many Ukrainians fought FOR Russia in WW II, so he likely had a choice of what side he felt like being on, is also beside the point. Nobody charged him with anything. But he was quite firmly on the bad guys' side and we shouldn't be applauding him for it. And the Speaker's tacit assumption that if we're against Russian foreign policy now that must mean killing Russians is inherently good across all of time and space was moronic and offensive.

You seem to believe "let bygones be bygones" in your post, but then in the last paragraph you stomp on the Nazi's. Which side are you on?
About 4.5 million Ukrainians chose to fight against the Nazi's. I believe that less than 10% of that figure chose to support the Nazi's. I think the actual number for the Waffen SS Division Galizien was around 27,000 to 42,000 troops. Yaroslav Hunka volunteered for this service, he wasn't drafted. He chose to support the Nazi's when millions of his countrymen chose a different path.

I would like to know why.

Good comments about the new Calgary MP and the need to reform parliament so MPs aren’t forced to sound like barking seals repeating party talking points even when they make no sense., The Conservatives are especially bad at this.