Talking points: Free trade goes bust and an abuse of trust

Check out our Talking Points — short takes on the week’s news. (Sound like the smartest person in the room.)

Graham Hughes/CP

Chrystia Freeland. (Graham Hughes/CP)

What’s the deal?

A landmark free trade deal between Canada and the European Union fell off the rails after one segment of one country—Wallonia, a French-speaking region of Belgium—refused to support the historic agreement. The impasse so enraged International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland that she stormed out of negotiations in Belgium, saying, “We’ve done our job. Now it’s up to Europe to do its job.” The European Council’s president gave the Belgian prime minister until Oct. 24 to resolve the impasse, but by press time it still wasn’t clear whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be flying overseas—as planned, months ago—to put his signature on the deal.

A horrific abuse of trust

Placing an elderly parent in a nursing home is heart-wrenching enough. Now this: police in southwestern Ontario have charged a veteran nurse with eight counts of first-degree murder, alleging that 49-year-old Elizabeth Tracey Mae Wettlaufer knowingly administered lethal doses of medication to nursing home residents between 2007 and 2014. Little is known of Wettlaufer, other than she registered as a nurse in 1995 and later struggled with alcoholism. But considering the charges, a Facebook post she wrote on June 16 is downright haunting: “Fathers [sic] day is a great reminder of how blessed I am to still have my Dad alive and able to spend time with me.”

Doubling down

Here we go again. Steven Blaney, who served as Stephen Harper’s public safety minister, has thrown his hat into the Conservative leadership race—and his very first promise is to ban all public servants from wearing niqabs. Blaney didn’t stop there: he also vowed to invoke the notwithstanding clause if the courts were to strike down his planned prohibition on the Islamic face covering. Fellow Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, who is also vying for the leadership, has already promised to institute a “values test” for new immigrants if elected prime minister. Her controversial idea suddenly seems tame in comparison.

Stay-cation nation

The company that commissioned the study clearly has an ulterior motive—selling vacation packages—but the numbers are no less depressing: according to, Canadians leave 31 million vacation days unused ever year, and more than a quarter (27 per cent) go more than one year without taking a holiday. Can’t decide on the best destination? For starters, maybe avoid Wallonia.

An overdue welcome

It took longer than it should have, but the Trudeau government recently acknowledged the obvious: that Islamic State is committing genocide against minority Yazidis in Syria and Iraq. This week, the Liberals went one step further, promising to take urgent steps to bring Yazidi refugees to Canada. Many details still need to be ironed out—How many? Who will choose the specific candidates? How will the Canadian government even reach them?—but Immigration Minister John McCallum says despite all the challenges, he plans to welcome the first Yazidis within four months. “We have committed to do this, and it will be done,” he said. As it should be.

Unsung no more

On Oct. 22, 2014, Kevin Vickers became an instant hero: the brave, quick-thinking sergeant-at-arms who grabbed a pistol from his office and confronted Parliament Hill gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. This week, Canadians learned about another hero: Curtis Barrett. An RCMP corporal, Barrett was among the police officers who cornered Zehaf-Bibeau in the Hall of Honour that terrible morning—and it was Barrett, a Newfoundlander, who fired a bullet into the terrorist’s head. After two difficult years, which included a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, Barrett was finally recognized for his bravery with a Star of Courage from the Governor General. Thank you, corporal.

Reverse the curse

Toronto Blue Jays fans have every reason to feel blue: for the second straight year, the team fell just short of a World Series berth—and two of their biggest sluggers, José Bautista and Edwin Encarnación, may not be back in the home clubhouse come 2017. But if it’s any consolation, a fan base that has endured infinitely more heartache is on the brink of being rewarded. If the Chicago Cubs defeat the Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic, that team would break the biggest curse in sports, erasing a 108-year championship drought.

Designated driver

The Anheuser-Busch company claims to have completed the world’s first commercial shipment via a self-driving truck, sending—what else?—a tractor-trailer full of Budweiser on a trip through Colorado. A driver was on board (just in case) but at no point did he need to take control of the wheel. Now if only there was a self-driving car for all the people who drink Bud.

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