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Canada and the US utilize different political systems. The former uses the Westminster model for parliamentary government, which includes an elected House of Commons and (mostly) unelected Senate. The latter uses a presidential system and constitutional federal republic, which includes elected assemblies in the House of Representatives and Senate.

The two countries do have a few political similarities. Both elect a Speaker of the House, for instance. The role tends to be of a more independent nature in Canada, and more ideologically partisan in the US. Nevertheless, this individual is supposed to manage the day-to-day proceedings of the Canadian Parliament and US Congress, respectively.

In a strange quirk of history, the House Speaker role in both countries has simultaneously experienced an unusually high amount of political turmoil.

Anthony Rota, a Liberal MP who had served as Canada’s Speaker of the House for nearly four years, invited 98-year-old Yaroslav Hunka to be honoured during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Sept. 22 visit. Rota described Hunka, one of his constituents in North Bay, as a “Ukrainian Canadian war veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians” as well as “a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service.”

The war veteran received a standing ovation in Parliament, and plenty of smiles on both sides of the House. That is, until people started to connect the dots and realized that a huge mistake had been made. Hunka had served in the First Ukrainian Division during the Second World War, which was also known as the Waffen-SS Galicia Division and SS 14th Waffen Division. This division was a voluntary unit commanded by Nazi Germany that’s been accused of murdering Jewish and Polish civilians.

An actual Nazi had been honoured in the House of Commons. Rota was humiliated and issued an apology within days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were embarrassed by the actions of the Speaker and a caucus colleague. The opposition parties, who were also on their feet that day, pointed blame squarely at Rota, Trudeau and the Liberals and the clear lack of a proper vetting process.

Rota resigned as House Speaker on Sept. 26. While the Hunka invitation was unintentional, it was a massive error in judgment that couldn’t be swept under the rug. There was no other alternative but to step down.

This led to Bloc Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon taking over the role on an interim basis. Plamondon, who was elected as a Progressive Conservative in 1984, became the first-ever Speaker from the BQ, a separatist party. While uneventful, it was a strange moment in Canadian politics and the shortest-ever tenure of a House Speaker.

This led to the Oct. 3 vote for a new Speaker. Greg Fergus, a Liberal MP and the acknowledged front-runner, defeated three fellow Liberals (Sean Casey, Alexandra Mendès and Peter Schiefke), Conservative MP Chris d’Entremont, NDP MP Carol Hughes and Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a secret ballot vote. Stéphane Lauzon, a Liberal MP who had also put his name forward, withdrew before the voting started.

Liberal MPs seemed pleased with this decision. Fergus became Canada’s first Black House Speaker, and they felt the political turmoil involving this role would end.

Then again, maybe it won’t.

Fergus’s skills as a politician are highly suspect. He got into some hot water during a Jan. 25, 2021 appearance on CTV’s Power Play. After pointing out that more COVID-19 vaccine approvals were needed to meet a Sept. 2021 target, he confidently mentioned two vaccines, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, that hadn’t been approved in Canada at that point. CTV got in touch with then-Liberal Procurement Minister Anita Anand, who confirmed her government’s position hadn’t changed. Fergus issued an apology.

Fergus was also found guilty of an ethics violation this February. He broke the Conflict of Interest Act as Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary after writing a letter of support to the CRTC for a television channel that had applied for mandatory carriage. Parliamentary rules forbid ministers and parliamentary secretaries from writing letters of support. This is something that only MPs can do.

A mediocre politician with an ethics violation is Canada’s new House Speaker. The bar has been lowered yet again.

Meanwhile, Kevin McCarthy, who was elected US House Speaker on Jan. 7 after 15 agonizing ballots, the fifth longest in American history, became the first person in this role to be removed.

The right-leaning Freedom Caucus within the GOP was furious with McCarthy’s decision to make a deal with House Democrats to pass a funding resolution that would prevent a government shutdown. “We’re going to be adults in the room. And we’re going to keep government open,” McCarthy said. “If somebody wants to remove me because I want to be the adult in the room, go ahead and try.”

This was more than enough motivation for Matt Gaetz. The controversial Republican House Representative filed a motion to vacate on Oct. 2. While it initially seemed unlikely to succeed, the slim four-seat Republican majority that’s basically propped up the Freedom Caucus withered away. Eight Republicans, including Gaetz, voted for the no-confidence motion and were joined by the entire Democratic caucus.

The final vote was 216-210 to remove McCarthy. The Speaker’s seat was declared vacant. Republican Patrick McHenry was appointed Speaker pro tempore, and McCarthy unsurprisingly confirmed he wouldn’t run again.

While McCarthy’s leadership was far from flawless, it had been more than adequate. He really didn’t deserve this fate. Gaetz and his political allies have therefore unnecessarily thrown the House into turmoil – and hurt their own political brand in the process. With a looming government shutdown in roughly 40 days, the Republicans need to somehow get behind a new candidate for Speaker – and fast.

Who would have ever believed the House Speaker’s role in Canada and the US would have travelled on the same messy path, albeit for separate reasons? For all of our political differences, one similarity has stood out. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

According to the headlines Justin Trudeau has now apologized for applauding a Nazi in the Commons chamber. I’m not sure he did, or that he or the press know what an “apology” actually is. Or a great many things including what branch of government failed most dramatically in this disgraceful episode.

The Speaker has belatedly fallen on his mace, and the Treasury benches seem convinced it settles the matter. Not that they’d realize they were the “Treasury benches”. That phrase, familiar in Wilfrid Laurier’s day, refers to those MPs who support the current ministry on money bills and thus keep it in power. A point that clearly eludes the fancy empty suit known as Jagmeet Singh.

If I seem pedantically off-topic, let me attempt to justify my position by saying this entire debacle would not have happened if members of Parliament knew more about history. For instance who fought whom in World War II. As I recently complained in the Epoch Times, the problem here is that not one MP apparently realized if someone fought Russia in that conflict they might well have been on the wrong side. How did they not know?

As so often, lots of practice. As I also lamented in that column, “François-Philippe Champagne, minister of Foreign Affairs for over a year before flitting into Innovation, Science and Industry, recently tweeted, ‘Canada and Japan are, and always have been, strong allies and partners.’” So evidently he didn’t realize we were deadly enemies from 1940 though 1945.

Yes, 1940. Japan entered the war that September. Although arguably it started the whole thing in 1931, or 1937. But do not ask our Parliamentarians to tell you what that aside is about, let alone which side Japan was on in World War I and why. Or anyone else, since as far as I can tell, I was the only person who noticed Champagne’s egregious blunder.

Nor, indeed, would I want to surprise MPs with the question of why in that column after writing “if someone fought the Russians during World War II he wasn’t on our side” I added “Unless he was Finnish or Polish before 1941”. And level with me here: If you were to give every member of the House of Commons a pop quiz on who the main belligerents were in World War II and what side they were on, how confident are you that any of them would get it right? Winter War? What Winter War?

On that point I should mention that Pierre Poilievre and his associates are trying to tie this international embarrassment for Canada to the Liberals. But the Tories all stood and applauded too. Had not one of them read, say, Churchill’s history of the war? Or the Wikipedia article? So they too are guilty, of the act and the mens rea or in this case mens inanis. Talk about a tabula rasa.

Or don’t, because I wouldn’t count on them knowing that phrase either, or in what century John Locke wrote, let alone when and why he returned from exile. Glorious Revolution? What Glorious Revolution?

Indeed, how confident are you that any member of Parliament, and the Prime Minister in particular, could pass a pop quiz on almost any subject, historical or otherwise? Some of them, being lawyers, might manage a narrowly focused legal one; these people are not all dolts despite the impression they work hard to give.

Some genuinely are, which I guess is some kind of excuse. Though not for voters. But I wonder whether Justin Trudeau could even pass a quiz on current events in Canada. (For instance: How many actual bodies have been found in unmarked residential-school graves?) Is there one single subject on which you would bet on him knowing anything of importance? Could he tell you Canada’s GDP without briefing notes? Or this year’s projected deficit?

He doesn’t even seem to realize orthodox Islam leans conservative on gender and sexuality. (Think he’s read the Koran?) Or that not everyone who opposes the radical woke position on any point is a Nazi. Or who really is a Nazi.

Or as noted what an apology is. He’s mighty good at “apologizing” for what other people did and how far they fell short of his sublime excellence. But in this case, even while accepting personal responsibility to an unusual degree, he shrugged it off: “All of us who were in the House on Friday regret deeply having stood and clapped, even though we did so unaware of the context.”

Pfui. What you really need to apologize for is clapping enthusiastically to signal virtue without knowing “the context”. And for not knowing the context. As in who fought the Soviets on the Eastern Front after 1941. (Hint: It wasn’t Gondor. Nor is it a state secret.) Trudeau did say “It is important that we learn from this. It reaffirms the need to keep promoting and investing in Holocaust education.” There’s that telltale “continue/keep” meme when the problem is MPs don’t know who fought in the war that featured the Holocaust.

I also don’t think most MPs understand the history of the institution in which they are privileged to sit. If you asked them to identify and explain the significance of Charles I could they? Let alone Edward CokeWilliam Lenthall or Stephen Langton? When Poilievre says “Every single person ought to have been vetted for their diplomatic and security sensitivities if the prime minister and his massive apparatus were doing their jobs” he seems unaware of the crucial constitutional importance, and exciting history, of Parliament managing its own affairs instead of letting the Executive do it.

Indeed MPs, and journalists, don’t even seem to know “Sorry, but…” is not an apology but sneaky self-justification. An apology is where you admit blame and accept punishment.

If I might interject a pretentious aside (another one, you cry?) my daily online “Words Worth Noting” for today was “His imperfections flowed from the contagion of the times: his virtues were his own.” Which isn’t just an important reflection on how to judge people in the past but is Edward Gibbon on Belisarius (and quoted by George Kennan). Whoever they were.

So how did we get here? Or rather, how did they get there? Well, in the case of MPs we elected them. And most of them, and us, and my fellow journalists, were educated in government-run schools. So let me switch the focus and ask how confident you are that your children, or any others you see flocking into and out of those dreary state buildings, know the sine law, or the parts of speech. Or could say with confidence when World War I was, or spontaneously utter a coherent sentence in both official languages. Or either. And on and on.

On the other hand, here’s a list of things students reliably do “know”: we’re roasting the planet; there are dozens of genders; thousands of bodies have been found of murdered residential school children; non-woke Canada is a hotbed of Naziism.

Government is broken in so many areas in Canada today that it becomes wearisome to keep track. But we can’t let them grind us down because government is a necessary evil and we must grasp the necessity while guarding against the evil. So here’s another question I’d like to put to MPs, voters and even students: Why do we let the government run our schools? If we trust the state, our history teachers didn’t do their job. Or did, depending what their paymasters wanted.

I won’t quote On Liberty here on this point again. Or even ask “Who was John Stuart Mill?” or “What are Mill’s three key arguments for free speech?” though I once got to explain them to a Commons committee, whereupon I, Mark Steyn and Lindsay Shepherd were filibustered by an NDP MP. But I would ask “Who was George Orwell?” and “What is the main point of Nineteen Eighty-Four?”

That the state should require parents to educate their children, and set basic achievement standards, seems to me incontrovertible. To leave your child illiterate is a grotesque violation of their rights. As is leaving them in total ignorance of science, literature and history. But that state schools have done all these things to a large portion of the population is increasingly hard to ignore, and surely impossible to condone.

So my final pop quiz for MPs and anyone else concerned that Canada has become a profoundly and smugly unserious place in a serious world: “Do you support school vouchers? Who first proposed them and when? Who opposes them and what self-interested motives might they have? Why don’t citizens demand control over their children’s education so (a) it will actually be one and (b) our Parliamentarians have basic knowledge of the Second World War?”

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

This content is restricted to subscribers

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.