Howard Levitt: Trudeau, as a CEO, would be forced to take fall for Liberals' Nazi blunder

The prime minister, at a corporation, would be fired with cause over incident

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So, let’s get this straight. Someone is feted by the entire House of Commons, introduced as having fought against Russia during the Second World War.  

That would be the one war, above all others, that has been carved indelibly into the collective memories of Canadians in lessons from grade school on and through the family histories of millions of citizens. 

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So how is it possible that no one considered what that implied? “Wait, Russia was our ally in WWII against the Nazis, with Canada sending it munitions and support. If he was fighting against Russia during (not after) the war, then he must have been fighting on Germany’s side. Shouldn’t somebody check into this before we invite him as a guest to Parliament, let alone laud him?” 

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And this was not just any Commons session. It was on Erev Yom Kippur, ironically the Day of Atonement for past sins, the holiest day of the year for Jews — and also the session where the Jewish President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, was making a Parliamentary address. 

It only made matters worse that Russia has attempted to justify its current invasion of Ukraine on the grounds that the country must be de-Nazified; it is now making propaganda hay over a NATO member giving a genuine Ukrainian Nazi collaborator (who Poland is demanding the deportation of to face a war crimes trial) a standing ovation. 

So who is at fault for bringing Yaroslav Hunka to the House of Commons? Clearly, Speaker Anthony Rota, who now has been forced to resign, bears much of the blame.  

Pressure to resign

But in my world, chief executive officers take responsibility for massive corporate failings and are quickly replaced by boards of directors. In a corporate setting, pressure for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign amid such a blunder would be intense. Discharge for cause for brand embarrassment has increasingly become part of employment law, from damaging relations with key clients to something which puts the entire company into disrepute. A recent example is Chris Licht, head of CNN who, despite fighting for his job, was quickly dispatched when a 15,000-word article in the Atlantic detailing his management style proved too toxic for CNN to keep him.

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But Trudeau has personal as well as corporate responsibility. The Prime Minister’s Office is supposed to be vetting House of Commons guests so why did no one there ask my introductory questions? It took the U.S. Jewish magazine Forward virtually no time to learn that Hunka had been a member of the Waffen-SS Galicia Division, which committed massive war crime atrocities and was declared at Nuremburg to be a criminal organization. The magazine also uncovered a post in which he referred to his time in the SS as “the happiest years of his life.”  

It was not just Trudeau’s own office’s failings but how Trudeau personally handled the aftermath. He blamed the Speaker alone and went into hiding, avoiding the House of Commons, finally being forced to make an apology several days later, once again though blaming only the Speaker. And he did not apologize personally, nor for his party, nor for his office but effectively blamed the Opposition equally, apologizing on behalf of the entire House of Commons. But the other parties had no reason to believe that a veteran invited to this special session and indeed by the Speaker as a war hero had in fact been fighting for the Nazis.

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Russia’s head of propaganda was quick to take advantage: “Many Western countries, Canada included, have raised a young generation that does not know who fought whom, or what happened during the Second World War.”

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But many members of the Commons lack the excuse of youthful ignorance. This, of course, was only the most recent in a string of embarrassments where Trudeau’s conduct resulted in Canada receiving unflattering international attention.

If Trudeau was a Canadian chief executive whose board came to me to ask whether he should be fired, I would quickly answer: “Godspeed and with cause. No severance.” 

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