Symphony of embarrassment

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Living in the “Ottawa area”, it can sometimes feel like stupid federal government decisions (and there sure are a lot of them) are “our responsibility”. They aren’t, obviously, but it nevertheless feels like we should be apologizing to the rest of Canada. One stupid decision on September 22 was so thoroughly bad that our own Prime Minister has announced that all of Canada should be embarrassed. I’m left asking – how exactly is it my fault?

The decision I’m referring to was made, allegedly, by Speaker of the House of Commons, Anthony Rota. He is accused of inviting a veteran to Parliament to be honoured without realizing that the veteran fought as part of a Nazi unit in World War II. The reason I say “allegedly” when referring to something that the Speaker has publicly admitted, is because politics is a very dirty game. People are asked to take the fall all the time. I don’t doubt that the Speaker was part of the league of non-thinkers that invited the Nazi veteran to Parliament, but I can’t accept that the government had no knowledge of it and is completely without shared responsibility. Speaker Rota has since resigned. 

In politics, everything is political, even when it’s specifically designed not to look political. I remember when Jack Layton died while on leave from his long tenure as leader of the federal NDP party, not long after he led the party through a massive increase in popularity and ended up being Leader of the Opposition. Prime Minister Harper offered a state funeral despite it not being required for anyone besides prime ministers and governors general, and Jack Layton’s widow, Olivia Chow, accepted. At the time, many people probably thought that this gesture was a wonderful break from politics – a politician offering a touching, posthumous honour to his main opponent. In reality, it likely helped Stephen Harper’s image even amongst those who despised him. Nothing against Stephen Harper personally, it’s just that in politics, everything really is political. 

How does this relate to the invitation of a Nazi veteran to the Canadian Parliament? Simply put, every non-Liberal politician is loving this story because it’s a great way to lay blame and criticism on the Prime Minister and his government. Surely there’s a better vetting process for people invited into a session of the House of Commons, particularly when they are there to be honoured, right? The problem with being too quick to push politics is that it can make one look like… well… an idiot. 

It was my lovely wife who pointed out to me, when we were discussing the House of Commons Nazi veteran fiasco, that ALL of the MPs who were present that day applauded the veteran. In fact, news agencies around the world have been very eager to point out that the veteran was given a standing ovation. I don’t deny that he was introduced as a “hero”, and there was very little opportunity for MPs to analyze the situation, but as my wife pointed out to me – the veteran was specifically introduced as having “fought the Russians”. There appear to be many sitting MPs who need to take a history lesson. Russia may be responsible for horrific acts toward Ukraine in the present time, but they were indeed the enemy of Nazi Germany during World War II. Anyone listening to the Speaker’s introduction on September 22 could have surmised that someone who had “fought the Russians” was a Nazi. 

If all MPs applauded the veteran, isn’t it completely ridiculous and hypocritical to then turn around and criticize only the Speaker, or to point fingers at Justin Trudeau? I do not hide my dislike of Trudeau, but this unfortunate situation was an “everyone” problem. Applause should not be given out of sheer habit. Just like a compliment or an apology, applause should mean something. In the House of Commons on September 22, each MP either gave genuine applause while failing to think about and process who the veteran was, or they gave unmeaningful applause just because that’s what MPs do in Parliament. There is no third option. Both options are embarrassing. In fact, it wasn’t just the unresearched invite from the speaker that embarrassed Canadians on September 22 – applause from every elected federal politician in the country formed a horridly harmonious symphony of embarrassment. 

Democracy requires adversarial debate. Politicians cannot always agree on everything, because if they did, ordinary citizens would lose the power of choice through voting, and would therefore lose the power and benefit of democracy itself. Disagreement, however, does not need to equate to a lack of civility. In this case, there is nothing to disagree on – what happened in the House of Commons on September 22 was embarrassing and has made other countries look down on Canada. Every MP was a part of it, though some more than others, and now is not the time for a political stunt. 

Pierre Poilievre is an excellent politician. By this, I mean that he is great at playing politics, and he rarely makes a political mistake. Will he be good for Canada if elected? I don’t know, no one knows, but he is definitely good at “talking the talk” in the meantime. His response to the veteran situation is a notable exception to his avoidance of political faux pas. He has politicized a sensitive and embarrassing issue despite taking part in the issue himself. Instead of being so quick to point fingers, he too, and all MPs, should be saying their apologies. Applauding may have been “just a mistake”, but where I come from, mistakes are followed by taking responsibility. Say “sorry” – it is, after all, the Canadian way. 

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