Ross Rebagliati’s run for parliament, Hollywood’s new It girl, and an underwater cabinet meeting

Newsmakers of the week

Ross RebagliatiNo dope
When Ross Rebagliati tested positive for a banned substance at the 1998 Winter Games, the callowness of youth became the basis of his defence. The substance was marijuana, and Rebagliati was a snowboarder from Whistler. What youngster ever ventured forth in that town without inhaling a little second-hand THC? Nearly a dozen years later, Rebagliati is leaving the freestyle aspect of his image behind to seek nomination as a federal Liberal in Kelowna. He lives in the city with his wife and five-month-old son, where he is the picture of upstanding sobriety. That’s just as well: if he gets the nod, he’ll face Tory cabinet minister Stockwell Day, a powerhouse at the polls who wears his conservatism with pride. Rebagliati fully expects the pot controversy to come up during the campaign. “I think the issue has been dealt with,” he says. “I feel like I’ve been able to prove my character over the years.”

Tongues wag
The pejorative term is “WAGs”—wives and girlfriends—and many of the consorts of high-paid athletes seem like over-tanned decorations of the players they date. Kate Hudson doesn’t really fit that bill, with her wholesome appearance and successful career as a film star. But the 30-year-old actor nabbed the spotlight during baseball’s American League playoffs by enthusiastically cheering on her current beau, Alex Rodriguez, from her front row seat in Yankee Stadium. Other Yankee WAGs reportedly don’t enjoy the theatrics—most notably shortstop Derek Jeter’s girlfriend, Minka Kelly. But Hudson must be doing something right: after years of post-season mediocrity, A-Rod boasts a shining .438 batting average with five home runs and a whopping 12 runs batted in.

Nick GriffinRight to know
Exactly what did the anti-racist protesters fear from Nick Griffin, leader of the ultra-right British National Party? That he would somehow dupe a national TV audience into thinking he was moderate? Griffin slipped past demonstrators at the BBC last week to make an appearance on the well-watched program Question Time, and in doing so served the voters well. Support for the BNP appeared to be growing, and the leader himself won a seat last June in the European parliament. People across the country deserved to hear him questioned by seasoned journalists. The upshot? Griffin quickly lapsed into hyperbole and absurdity, at one point likening the British to “aborigines” who are being assimilated or driven out by immigrants. Reaction was decidedly sour, and Griffin has since been laid low by a prominent geneticist who says Griffin has distorted his findings on immigration. If anyone didn’t know what sort of leader Griffin is before all this, they certainly know now.

Get this man a drink
Years ago, critics warned that Edgar Bronfman Jr.’s ambition to become a global entertainment magnate would be his undoing. They were wrong. If the heir to Montreal’s Seagram liquor business goes down, it will come of garden-variety insider trading allegations. Bronfman had tried in the late 1990s to assemble an entertainment empire, but wound up selling out for $30 billion to Vivendi, a former French water utility that had remade itself into an entertainment juggernaut. He went on to head up the Warner Music Group, but retained a 7.5-per-cent stake in the European giant, and is now one of seven executives accused of using knowledge of the company’s mounting debt problems to unload shares before they lost value. Bronfman’s Paris-based lawyer has denied his client “contravened any French laws or regulations.”

Pamela AndersonShe’s so cute
Pamela Anderson’s protests against the East Coast seal hunt are growing stranger by the day. Last week, the former Baywatch star appeared on a British TV show in panties and a tube top spray-painted with the message: “The seal hunt sucks.” On Friday, she surfaced next to a giant seal mascot at a protest at Queen’s Park in Toronto—oblivious, apparently, to the fact the Ontario government has nothing whatsoever to do with the hunt. The B.C.-born actor was in town for Fashion Week, and appeared determined to use whatever platform was available to speak her piece. So take note, Premier McGuinty: Pamela Anderson says it’s time to end the seal hunt.

BarbieLiv in’ large
Speaking of blonds with unlikely body proportions, Barbie got a makeover this week, as Mattel Inc. tries to renew interest in the classic doll. Much has been made of the need to reimagine Barbie as a typical American girl, but the real catalyst for change may be Liv, a prettier, more realistic and more versatile Barbie competitor (Liv has 14 movable joints) manufactured by Spin Master, a Canadian company. “Barbie has been so many different things,” Spin Master co-founder Ben Varadi told the Wall Street Journal. “Liv is a friend. Liv is now.” Varadi and company are way ahead when it comes to making their lineup of dolls look like actual teens—one’s a clumsy athlete, another is a fashion-loving girl who works at a clothing shop.

Wealth benefits
Maybe those Wall Street bonuses aren’t so far out of line. Last week, New Yorkers were stunned to learn that Dennis O’Connell, a unionized stagehand in charge of props at Carnegie Hall, makes US$530,000 a year in salary and benefits, while four other workers on the stage crew pull down $430,000, according to the hall’s 2008 tax return. Showbiz analysts say the employees enjoy negotiating clout because they could conceivably shut down a vital part of New York’s entertainment district by going on strike. Still, as Bloom-berg News helpfully pointed out, a top-rung concert pianist would have to perform 27 times at Carnegie to equal O’Connell’s salary, which doesn’t seem right. Officials with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees declined comment.

David Chen WangVigilante injustice
Store owner David Chen Wang says he was trying to defend his merchandise when he chased down a shoplifter last spring in Toronto’s Chinatown. Now, the 35-year-old is a folk hero among frustrated merchants across the country. Chen and two employees from the Lucky Moose Food Mart were charged with kidnapping, forcible confinement and carrying a concealed weapon last summer after they bundled the suspect into a delivery van and tied his hands while awaiting police. But the cops evidently felt Chen’s reaction went beyond a mere citizen’s arrest: they gave the shoplifter, Anthony Bennett, a bargain on his sentence for providing evidence against Chen, and there’s some doubt now as to whether the Crown will see through this case. After a media throng showed up last week at Chen’s court appearance, his lawyer said prosecutors are considering dropping the kidnapping charge.

Son king
That’s the trouble with kids. Just when you think you’ve got them set up for life, they come back to haunt you. So it was that Jean Sarkozy, the 22-year-old son of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, withdrew from the running to chair a $200-million-per-year public development agency amid reports that his father was pulling strings to place him in the job. French journalists have dubbed the boy “Prince Jean,” noting that the younger Sarkozy has no work experience to speak of. But for President Sarkozy, the withdrawal has proven more embarrassing than the nepotism allegations, as he’d insisted until the last minute that Jean was qualified for the position. Explaining the reversal fell this week to Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, who described the move as a personal decision “that shows Jean’s great maturity.”

Carey MulliganNo pressure
There will never be another Audrey Hepburn, but 24-year-old Carey Mulligan stirred enough comparisons to the Breakfast at Tiffany’s star this week that you wonder what she can do for an encore. The British actor’s turn in An Education has garnered early predictions of an Oscar nomination, while the stateside entertainment press can’t get enough of her—USA Today dubbed her the new “It girl.” Mulligan is handling it with the precociousness of her character in the film, a 1960s schoolgirl named Jenny who strikes up an affair with a smooth-talking businessman twice her age. When one male journalist lamented Mulligan’s decision to cut her hair, she simply shrugged: “Well, cheers, love. Like it or lump it.”

Quitting time
The Church of Scientology has benefited enormously from celebrity endorsement, and now it’s learning the power of celebrity renunciation. Ontario-born director Paul Haggis has severed his ties with the controversial church over its tacit denial of gay rights, and its decision to back a gay-marriage ban in California. “I could not, in good conscience, be a member of an organization where gay-bashing was tolerated,” Haggis wrote to Tommy Davis, the head of Scientology’s so-called “Celebrity Center,” in a letter that found its way onto the Internet. Haggis, a two-time Oscar winner for Crash and Million Dollar Baby, was one of the church’s most influential adherents, but it doesn’t sound like he’ll be returning to the fold any time soon. “I have to believe that if [most Scientologists] knew what I now know,” he wrote, “they too would be horrified.”

Mohamed  NasheedWatering down the message
Worried that his impassioned pleas for action on climate change are falling on deaf ears, Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, last week held a cabinet meeting underwater. The stunt worked: Nasheed and his ministers were pictured around the world in scuba gear, sitting around tables anchored in the sand about six metres below the surface of the Indian Ocean. But climate change is no laughing matter for the island nation, which reaches less than two metres above sea level. At the current rate of glacial melt, scientists say, nearly half the country’s surface area could be gone within the century.