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Who is Anthony Rota, the Speaker of the House of Commons who is stepping down?

Until Friday afternoon, the Speaker was considered a highly respected Speaker on both sides of the political aisle. 
Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA — Anthony Rota has been jokingly dragged to the Speaker's chair by the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition twice, in what is a long-standing parliamentary tradition.

The second time, in 2021, MPs thanked him for his fairness and leadership in the House of Commons during the COVID-19 global pandemic — and for how he managed all the unprecedented challenges that upended how Parliament normally operates. 

On Tuesday, about two years later, Rota delivered his resignation, effective at the end of the day on Wednesday.

Until Friday afternoon, the Speaker was considered a highly respected Speaker on both sides of the political aisle. 

But on that day, he invited a Ukrainian veteran who fought for the Nazis to the House of Commons to witness a speech by Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and lauded the man as a Canadian and Ukrainian hero.

Rota apologized to the House on Monday amid international criticism over the incident. 

"I don't think I've ever been through a tougher time in this chamber, in this House, since I got here in 2004," Rota said Monday as he presided over the debate about his own wrongdoing. 

By the time he resigned on Tuesday afternoon, he was facing calls to step down from all four major parties represented in the Commons. 

"He's a profoundly good man," Mark Holland, the health minister and former Liberal House leader said Tuesday, as senior members of his party called for Rota to step down. 

Holland and Rota were both first elected in 2004. 

"I think he's done his best as a parliamentarian and as a Speaker, but I also know that he puts Parliament first, that he puts the dignity of the office first," Holland said. 

Rota first got into politics in 1994 when he ran as a city councillor in his hometown of North Bay. 

He's served as the Liberal MP for Nipissing-Timiskaming 16 years, with a brief break after losing his seat to the Conservatives in 2011.

He took on the job as Speaker in 2019 after winning a ranked ballot over his predecessor and fellow Liberal Geoff Regan, with the support of the Conservatives. 

The win made him the first Canadian of Italian descent to take the chair.  

The Speaker's main job is to preside over the House of Commons, acting as referee during heated political exchanges and debates. The Speaker also acts as the administrative manager and spokesperson for the House, and performs several ceremonial and diplomatic duties. 

The position comes with a considerable pay raise, an apartment on Parliament Hill and an official residence at Kingsmere in Chelsea, Que. 

He won the job again in 2021, and was praised for how he handled the office.

"The fact that you have been re-elected demonstrates that you have the trust and confidence of this House," NDP Leader Jagmeet Since said at the time. 

After Rota's most recent election as Speaker, Rota thanked MPs for that confidence. 

"This is something I know I will treasure for the rest of my life."

As Speaker, he steered the House of Commons through tumultuous and unprecedented situations. He had been in the job for just three months when the COVID-19 spread to Canada and all parties agreed to suspend Parliament.

The pandemic ushered in the age of hybrid Parliament, which allowed MPs to address the House and vote remotely from home.

Even when calling for his resignation, NDP MP Peter Julian noted that Rota guided Parliament through challenging times.

"You have done an admirable job doing just that, through COVID-19, the occupation of downtown Ottawa last winter and the putting in place of a hybrid parliament," he said, referring to the "Freedom Convoy" protests.

Ultimately through, Julian said Rota's ill-advised decision Friday broke a sacred trust.

He resigned Tuesday in a brief speech as MPs trickled into the chamber for Question Period.

"I have acted as your humble servant of this House, carrying out the important responsibilities of this position to the very best of my abilities," he said.

"The work of this House is above any of us. Therefore, I must step down as your Speaker."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2023. 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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