Ottawa was sleepy and mostly congenial all week long — at least until Friday — with most MPs back in their ridings after Thanksgiving and cabinet ministers off cutting ribbons in far-flung places.
Politicos who stayed behind consorted amiably with the like-minded. The French prime minister waxed eloquent about Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy; Ontario Conservative Leader Patrick Brown spoke to — and passed the hat among — his Ottawa supporters over dinner; and a 14-hour brainstorming session among growth-hungry economy types attempted to solve the country’s prosperity problems.
But the Hill bolted upright on Friday morning after a regional government in Belgium voted to reject the free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, putting the entire pact — and seven years of work — in jeopardy. The vote was quickly followed by news of the plane-crash death of former Alberta premier and former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice, who was a fixture for so long in Ottawa that the loss was felt immediately and deeply by a huge range of politicians, staffers, lobbyists and reporters.
Here are three ways politics affected regular people this week:
WALLOONS AND THEIR GRIP ON CANADA
Wallonia is the French-speaking region of 3.5 million people in the south of Belgium and the region’s government appears to be one of the final obstacles standing between Canada and its long wait for a far-reaching trade and investment pact with Europe.
The Belgian Constitution gives Walloons considerable power and on Friday morning they exercised it, fearing competition from Canada in agriculture and industrial production. Ottawa immediately dispatched a special envoy to stamp out the fire.
But it’s only the latest round of opposition to the troubled comprehensive agreement that was supposed to open up lucrative trade and investment opportunities for Canadian businesses, allow for a freer flow of people back and forth to the continent and give Canadian consumers better access to European goods.
Trudeau argues that Europe’s reputation as a free trader is at stake too — that if Europe can’t sign a well-crafted deal with a close ally, then it can’t really expect to negotiate with anyone.
The prime minister — like his predecessor Stephen Harper — insists the deal is too good to die and he is planning on heading to Europe at the end of the month to sign it, with or without the Walloons.
The list of Conservative leadership contenders grows longer and longer, with Ontario MP Erin O’Toole entering the race this week, former immigration minister Chris Alexander speaking openly about his ambitions and finance critic Lisa Raitt waiting in the wings.
But the race also lost a key player this week. On Wednesday, longtime Ontario MP Tony Clement bowed out — his second attempt at becoming federal Conservative leader coming to an inglorious end. Clement said he couldn’t raise enough money without putting his family finances at risk.
Expect more like this, especially since several of the leader wannabes come from just one province, Ontario. With more than a dozen declared or potential candidates now seeking to define the party’s persona, no single voice is punching through the noise and Conservative supporters are left with a befuddling buffet of choices in how best to oppose the Trudeau government.
STANDING UP TO TRUMP
While Ottawa may have had a quiet week, Washington certainly didn’t. A long and expanding list of Republicans and prominent Americans have condemned Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for his degrading comments about groping women at will. The growing list of women speaking out about personal experience is also shocking.
During his visit to Ottawa on Thursday, French prime minister Manuel Valls very clearly advocated for a Hillary Clinton victory and a rejection of Trump.
And on Friday, B.C. Premier Christy Clark told Postmedia that everyone should publicly condemn Trump because such treatment of women can’t be left unchallenged.
When asked about his position, Trudeau decided to remind the public that he is a feminist and that he would work with whomever the American populace elects. At what point will his feminism take precedence over diplomacy?