The National Today

'Slave law' sends thousands into streets in Hungary

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Viktor Orban may have finally hit the limit of his power; technology exists to create a life-saving registry of medical implants, but the political will seems to be lacking; putting a face on the opioid crisis.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A protester holds a sign reading 'Stop Orban' as members and sympathizers of several trade unions, political parties and civil organisations march in Budapest on Sunday against changes to the labour code proposed by the Prime Minister's party. (Peter Kohalmi/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • New labour laws brought forward by Hungary's far-right prime minister have sparked five days and nights of street protests.
  • The technology to create a potentially life-saving registry of medical implants exists, but the political will in Canada seems to be lacking.
  • Putting a face to the opioid crisis.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.


Unrest in Hungary

Viktor Orban may have finally found the limits of his power.

Two controversial new laws championed by Hungary's far-right prime minister have sparked five days and nights of protests, sending thousands into the streets and, for the first time, creating a unified opposition against him.

Sunday's demonstrations, which took place in eight cities across the country, were the largest yet. A crowd of 15,000 in Budapest braved freezing temperatures to rally in front of the parliament buildings, where an array of politicians from the political left to the right denounced Orban and his Fidesz party.

Anna Donath, vice president of Hungary's opposition party Momentum Movement, holds a flare during a protest against a proposed new labour law, billed as the 'slave law,' in Budapest on Sunday. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Last Wednesday, the government rammed through legislation creating a new, parallel court system — directly under the control of the minister of justice — which will have jurisdiction over "administrative" matters such as electoral rules, corruption cases and public protests.

But the Hungarian public appears to be more upset over changes to the labour code that will raise the upper limit for overtime from 250 hours to 400 hours a year, and give employers three years to fully pay out the additional wages and vacation days.

The law also allows companies to bypass unions and make the extra-work arrangements directly with their employees, stoking fears that the "voluntary" overtime will effectively prove mandatory.

Protestors have dubbed the legislation a "slave law," and are accusing Orban of selling out Hungarian workers to foreign multinationals.

Protestors hold a banner against Prime Minister Orban's 'slave law' in front of the parliament building in Budapest on Sunday night. (Leonhard Foeger/Reuters)

Low wages and the second-worst standard of living in the European Union have helped create a labour shortage in Hungary, as skilled workers seek better opportunities abroad. And Orban, who owes his popularity to his fierce anti-immigrant rhetoric, has closed off the easiest way to augment the country's workforce.

His government has fallen back on its favourite tactic, accusing the demonstrators of being funded and organized by George Soros, his all-purpose bête noire billionaire. Over the weekend, Fidesz released a statement suggesting that "criminals" were responsible for the "street riots organized by the Soros network."

But polls suggest that the overtime law is deeply unpopular even among Orban's own voters, with 63 per cent of the prime minister's supporters expressing disapproval in a new survey. There's a 95 per cent rejection rate among those who back opposition parties.

Police and demonstrators in front of the Parliament building in Budapest on Dec. 13. Protests against Hungary's new labour law have been gaining momentum for days. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

The protestors are also finding other targets for their rage.

After the main demonstration ended last night, some 2,000 people marched several kilometres to the headquarters of state broadcaster MTVA on the outskirts of Budapest. They stood outside in the snow chanting "factory of lies" until riot police fired tear gas to break up the crowd.

Several opposition politicians made their way inside the building to demand that the broadcaster tape and air them reading a petition against Orban and his laws.

Their bid was unsuccessful, and this morning two of the lawmakers were forcibly removed by security guards as their struggles were carried live on social media.

Since winning a third term as PM in a landslide victory this past spring, Orban has made a number of moves to further strengthen his already firm grip on power.

Last month, for example, saw 10 media companies owned by the Prime Minister's supporters announce that they have "donated" some 400 newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio stations to a new pro-government non-profit organization.

And in early December, the George-Soros financed Central European University —a grad school run by former federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff — confirmed it will abandon Budapest for Vienna as of September 2019, bowing to the government's efforts to get it to leave.

Protestors hold up their cellphone flashlights in the streets of Budapest on Sunday night. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

Opposition groups say that the aim of the new, unified protests are to "topple the regime," but that seems unlikely given Orban's control of so many government levers and his super-majority in parliament.

Still, there is a sense that he might well have over-reached with the overtime changes, and could be forced to backtrack for the first time in years.

It may be that Orban has been taking his cues from a less popular and more embattled leader. When Chuck Norris visited Budapest last month, Orban took time out of his schedule to chauffeur the fading action star around town and show him the sights.

The video of their encounter captures the Hungarian prime minister boasting about his street-fighting credentials and how the "liberals hate me."

"You're like Trump?," asks Norris.

"A little bit more than that!," Orban responds happily.


Tracking medical implants

The technology to create a potentially life-saving registry of medical implants exists, but the political will in Canada seems to be lacking, Vik Adhopia writes.

There's a growing chorus of patients, doctors and politicians calling for national medical device registries following the international investigation into the problems with medical implants.

CBC's stories were produced in partnership with Radio-Canada and The Toronto Star, and in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. They exposed flaws in a regulatory system that oversees the approval of thousands new medical devices, such as cardiac implants, artificial joints or insulin pumps — often with little new evidence they're safe and effective.  

When a problem is discovered with these devices, our investigation shows that recalls are sometimes slow to be issued and patients are left unaware that the device inside them could be linked to serious harm.

A child with an auditory brain stem implant that allows him to hear. (UNC Health Care/Associated Press)

Since The Implant Files was released worldwide, the U.K.'s Royal College of Surgeons has called for "urgent and drastic changes" to protect patient safety, including a registry to track devices implanted in every patient. Germany and Italy are also considering medical device registries that would not only track all products, but would also warn patients and doctors directly when problems occur.

Amazingly, in Canada this same idea has been kicking around for 30 years now, but no government has had the will to take it on.

Some cardiologists and orthopedic specialists do run limited device registries, but they're not mandatory, and patients aren't directly contacted if a problem is identified.

We discovered a letter sent in 1988 by Health Canada to all the provincial deputy ministers of health calling for the creation of a registry for breast implants, because of emerging health concerns.

Since then, 14 different petitions, motions and private members' bills have been introduced before Parliament calling for a national system to track implantable medical devices.

None of them have passed into law.

An enhanced x-ray of a human skeleton with a metal hip prosthesis. (Abyrvalg/Shutterstock)

Health Canada told CBC News it "supports the development of registries," but by specialists, the device industry or provinces rather than the federal government. It also warned that the cost of developing registries would be "considerable."

However, the founder of a Quebec firm that specializes in systems to track pharmaceuticals and health products says the technology already exists to do this inexpensively, while ensuring the privacy of patients.

Louis Roy of OPTEL told us the only real barrier to getting something like a national device registry off the ground is persuading our fragmented Canadian health care system to collaborate and "talk the same language."

Our story on medical device registries airs tonight on The National.

Vik Adhopia


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Putting a face to the opioid crisis

Producer Mia Sheldon speaks to the people at Toronto's Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site.

Putting a face to statistics is the best, and hardest, part of being a journalist.

There's no shortage of numbers when looking at the opioid crisis: number of deaths, number of overdoses, provincial numbers, federal numbers … the list goes on.

I wanted to meet some of the people who are at risk, and go inside a place that is trying to help.

Akosua Gyan-Mante, right, is a heroin and fentanyl user who visits the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site in Toronto. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Overdose prevention sites can be controversial. Critics say they promote drug use, contribute to criminality, and that there must be better ways to address the health crisis.

But what I saw when I spent time at Toronto's Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site was a place that was trying to give hope. And while it's not the only solution or answer to the opioid crisis, the people here are building a sense of community.

It's clear that those who come here could not be more thankful.

Akosua was one of the first people to open up to us. She's 26, endlessly charismatic and new to injecting heroin and fentanyl. She knows it's not good for her, she overdosed here last October, but she says the drugs are the only thing that makes her "shitty existence" worthwhile.

It's hard not to be sympathetic when someone tells you that.

Akosua is a mom and her son is living with his dad right now. She wants to get him back (she maintains sole custody of him) and turn her life around.

Akosua, centre, overdosed at the Moss Park site this summer. Workers Sarah Greig, left, and Tony, right, reversed the overdose. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

She also volunteers at the site in Moss Park, spending most of her days helping and hanging out. It's not meant to be for the long term, but meant to help for the "right now."

Akosua is just one of the people we met at the Moss Park site. We'll introduce you to several others tonight on The National.

- Mia Sheldon

  • WATCH: The story about the Moss Park Overdose Prevention Site, and the people who support and use it, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online


A few words on ... 

A well-travelled cat.


Quote of the moment

"Let us not break faith with the British people by trying to stage another referendum. Another vote which would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver."


- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May rejects calls for a second Brexit referendum in a speech before parliament this morning.

U.K. Prime Minster Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street on Tuesday. Her political week picked up where it left off, with May rallying support for her embattled Brexit deal and swatting away calls for a second referendum. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Canadian Chamber of Commerce solidly backs carbon pricing (CBC)
  • Theresa May allocates £2 billion for no-deal Brexit preparations (Guardian)
  • U.S. military strikes al-Shabaab in Somalia, kills 62 (CBC)
  • Farmer-herder clashes have killed 3,600 in Nigeria: Amnesty report (Al Jazeera)
  • Russia used every social media platform to elect Trump (Washington Post)
  • PewDiePie printer hackers strike again (BBC)
  • Ear cleaners, roadside plumbers thrive in Yangon (Jakarta Post)
  • Burton Cummings moves to Moose Jaw (CBC)

Today in history

Dec. 17, 1973: What makes the best Christmas tree?

Demand for Christmas trees is booming, causing prices to hit $1.50-a-foot at some big city lots. Of course, you could always still hump it out to the woodlots and cut your own at a cost of $4 for a six-footer, or $22 in today's terms. Still, rising tree fees left many people feeling like saps, and thinking of going artificial. A deluxe plastic tree runs $28 in 1973 ($155 today), although you do have to worry about the incandescent bulbs melting the plastic needles.

Real or artificial, a Christmas tree is a must-have in 1973 – no matter the price. 3:24

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.