Canada’s House of Commons voted in Greg Fergus as its first Black speaker on Tuesday, following the resignation of the previous speaker, who had invited a Nazi veteran to Parliament.
Fergus, a member of the Liberal Party representing Hull-Aylmer in Quebec, was elected as the 38th House speaker in a secret ballot in the 338-member House, beating six other candidates.
Describing his new role as a “great honor,” Fergus told House members that he hoped to show people that “politics is a noble profession.”
Fergus, who has served as a member of Parliament since 2015, chairs the Black Caucus in Parliament and has held senior advisory roles in a number of ministries. He is the father of three adult children and has one grandson. Besides politics, his interests include running and jazz.
Previously Jean Augustine, Canada’s first Black woman to be elected as a member of Parliament, briefly served as deputy speaker before her retirement from politics in 2006.
Fergus’s election was heralded as “historic” by colleagues across party lines.
“Greg Fergus not only brings a wealth of experience to this role, he is the first Black Canadian to become Speaker of the House of Commons — an inspiration to all Canadians, especially younger generations who want to get involved in politics,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office.
Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, said on social media, “For kids across this country who haven’t seen themselves reflected in our House of Commons — this is a historic moment.”
Fergus’s selection comes in the aftermath of an embarrassing controversy that made global headlines and drew wide condemnation.
Last month, during a joint session of Parliament addressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, then-Speaker Anthony Rota invited and honored Yaroslav Hunka, who was later revealed to be a Nazi veteran.
Rota described the 98-year-old Hunka as a “hero” who fought for Ukrainian independence, prompting two standing ovations from lawmakers and a fist pump from Zelensky. The Ukrainian president is Jewish, and his relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
Jewish groups later pointed out Hunka’s Nazi affiliation, saying he had been a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division, a unit of the Nazi paramilitary force Waffen-SS, made up of ethnic Ukrainians.
Rota apologized and, facing pressure from lawmakers over the incident, ultimately resigned. He said he later became aware of “more information” causing him to regret his decision and acknowledged the pain his actions caused to Jewish communities.
Trudeau also apologized in Parliament, calling it a “terrible mistake.” He added that those present were unaware of the context and that the decision to invite Hunka was made by the Speaker’s office. Canada also conveyed the apology to Ukraine and Zelensky through diplomatic channels.
Though Fergus did not refer to the incident in his brief remarks in the House on Tuesday, Singh called upon him to work to “restore the honor” of the House.
Fergus’s first task, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. News said, will be to “help Parliament turn the page on the embarrassing Yaroslav Hunka incident.”