Following last week’s resignation of Anthony Rota after inviting and honoring the 98-year-old Nazi war veteran Yaroslav Hunka who had fought for the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, or the SS 14th Waffen Division, the Quebec Liberal lawmaker Greg Fergus has been appointed as the new Speaker of Canada’s House of Commons.
The 54-year-old MP thus became the first person of African ethnicity to hold that position. After he was elected through a secret ballot, he promised to lead with respect and encouraged his fellow lawmakers to respect each other. Canadians are watching, he noted.
“The speaker, to use the old hockey analogy, is nothing more than a referee,” Fergus said in his first speech from the chair. “And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that nobody pays good money to go see the referee. They go to see the stars: you.”
Fergus’ first challenge will be to help Parliament turn the page on the embarrassing Hunka incident.
Fergus, who represents the Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer near Ottawa, vowed to improve the decorum in the Commons — something past Speakers have also promised with little success.
Respect and decorum — I’m going to be working hard on this and I need all your help to make this happen, Fergus said in his first remarks. Respect is a fundamental part of what we do here. We need to make sure that we treat each other with respect and we show Canadians that example. There can be no dialogue unless there’s a mutual understanding of respect.
Hunka, Rota’s guest during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address to Canadian lawmakers, was cheered and applauded by all MPs as well as by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. After that, worldwide condemnation ensued, particularly from the governments of Russia and Poland when Hunka’s past became known. The Waffen-SS Galicia Division is known to have committed atrocities against Jews and Poles.
Trudeau, who leads the Liberal Party, of which Rota is a member, described the ceremony as “deeply embarrassing for the House and for Canada.” In the aftermath of Hunka’s public appearance, Polish authorities said they would seek his extradition. As many as 2,000 Ukrainian members of Adolf Hitler’s Waffen-SS are believed to have been admitted to Canada after the war.
Bloc Québécois MP Louis Plamondon took over the role of House Speaker on an interim basis until Fergus was elected.