The Speaker of the House of Commons resigned Tuesday from his role after MPs called for his exit for honouring a Ukrainian war veteran who served with a Nazi unit.

Anthony Rota, the Liberal MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming, faced political pressure to resign after taking responsibility for inviting 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka, who fought with a Nazi unit during the Second World War, to be honoured in Parliament during a visit last week by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. He is the eighth House Speaker in Canadian history to resign.

Here’s what you need to know about Rota and the Speaker’s role.

What does the Speaker of the House of Commons do?

The Speaker of the House, sitting in the centre of the chamber, maintains order, ensuring that the rules and procedures are followed and applied to all MPs equally. The library of Parliament states that the Speaker must be impartial.

In Parliament, all speeches, questions and debates are directed to the Speaker, who does not participate in debate, and only votes to break a tie in the House.

The Speaker also oversees the administration and finances of the House of Commons, managing its staff, and acting as a liaison between the Senate and the Crown. The Speaker is in charge of welcoming visiting dignitaries and diplomats, and representing the House of Commons abroad.

How much does the Speaker of the House earn?

The Speaker earns an annual salary of $287,400 – $194,600 as an MP and $92,800 for the Speaker role.

What happens when a Speaker resigns?

With Rota’s resignation, MPs will follow the same ranked secret ballot process that occurs at the opening of the first session of a Parliament. The third edition of the House of Commons Procedure and Practice says, “The election takes precedence over all other business and is not to be considered as a question of confidence in the government.”

No other business can come before the House until the election has taken place and the new Speaker has taken the chair.

All MPs, except for cabinet ministers and party leaders, are eligible to run for House Speaker. If an MP is not interested in running, they must officially resign from the ballot in writing. MPs who do not withdraw their name and do wish to be Speaker are allowed a five-minute speech to try to sway the chamber in their favour.

The voting system is called a single preferential ballot system, where each member votes by ranking their preferred candidates in order. Members don’t have to rank all the candidates and can vote for only one candidate, if they wish.

Votes are tallied initially based on each member’s first choice. Once one of the candidates obtains an absolute majority of the vote, the successful candidate’s name is announced to the House.

Once a new Speaker is declared elected, the ballots and all related records of the vote are destroyed and the Speaker-elect makes some brief remarks from the chamber’s upper steps before taking the chair for the first time. The Speaker is presented to the Senate and receives the governor-general’s acknowledgment. After that, the House can proceed with the business of the sitting.

Who is Anthony Rota?

Rota, 62, was the 37th Speaker of the House. He was elected Dec. 5, 2019, and re-elected to the position on Nov. 22, 2021. Rota, a former city councillor in North Bay, was an MP in his riding from 2004 to 2011, and then re-elected in 2019.

Who called for Rota’s resignation?

MPs from across the political spectrum, including Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Government House Leader Karina Gould, the Bloc Québécois and New Democrats, called for Rota’s exit. The Conservatives have called the incident a massive diplomatic embarrassment, with Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre saying on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter, that Rota “will have to resign.”

Retired Conservative senator Noel Kinsella, the second-longest-serving Speaker in the Senate, said Rota’s staff let him down by failing to do a proper background check on Hunka, but that did not absolve him of his responsibility to do the right thing, and he should step down to protect the honour of Canada and Parliament.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center also called for the parliamentary procedure and house affairs committee to hold public hearings to investigate what took place and propose measures to ensure a similar incident could never happen again.

Notable past Speakers of the House

  • Edgar Nelson Rhodes, who was Speaker of the House from 1917 to 1921. The current chair in the House is known as the Rhodes Chair, built for him in 1917.
  • Peter Milliken held the longest tenure as Speaker. He was elected for four consecutive terms lasting 10 years 124 days.
  • John Bosley was the last Speaker before Rota to resign. Amid criticism of his office, Bosley stepped down in 1968 to sit as a Progressive Conservative backbencher. Bosley was the last Speaker to be appointed to the role.
  • Jeanne Sauvé, Speaker from April 14, 1980, to Jan. 15, 1984, was the only woman to serve in the role in Canadian history.

The Globe and Mail, September 26, 2023