Newsmakers: May 12-19, 2011

Premier Ed goes back to the farm, Charles Bronfman divorces in style, and the NDP snags another seat in Quebec

Newsmakers

Ben Lemphers/CP

Some supporters are always loyal

Ed Stelmach got choked up as he sat for the last time as premier in the Alberta legislature last Thursday, his 60th birthday. “Steady Eddie” was said to be the salt of the earth, but “he never seemed comfortable or confident at the head of the table,” the Calgary Sun editorialized. “He picked fights where none were necessary, appeared to see criticism as a threat” and, “painfully,” never found a way to communicate. After a strange showdown with then-finance minister Ted Morton in January, Stelmach chose to exit the bruising realm. He’ll return to the farm in Andrew, Alta., to his family and his beloved dogs. “I’m so grateful for them,” he told reporters last week. “If you have a really bad week and you come home to the farm, they’re always anxious to see you, and never hold anything against you.”

What’s in a name?

Daily Show correspondent Aasif Mandvi travelled to Asbestos, Que., last week. “Does ‘asbestos’ mean something different in French than it does in English?” Mandvi asked Georges Gagné, the town director. “Because in English, it means ‘slow, hacking death.’ ” Mandvi also spoke to Bernard Coulombe, president of Asbestos’s Jeffrey Mine, which received $60 million from Quebec to ramp up sales of the ultra-dangerous mineral in places like India—a country “so open-minded,” said Mandvi sarcastically, “it hasn’t banned the material that causes an estimated 100,000 lung cancer deaths a year.” Indians are “used to pollution,” said Coulombe, apparently suggesting they wouldn’t be bothered by asbestos fibres—“it’s like they have a natural antibiotic.” What, Mandvi wondered aloud, “is the French word for douche bag?”

Serial groom

Bello Maasaba has said “I do” 107 times. For decades, the Nigerian faith healer has wed a new woman every few weeks. Since nine have died, and he’s divorced 12 for disobedience, Maasaba is down to just 86—all of whom live with him in an 89-room compound in Bida, in western Nigeria. The government is not amused. Three years ago, Maasaba was arrested and ordered to divorce all but four of them. After refusing, he was thrown in jail. He spent 22 days behind bars until his wives—11 of them pregnant—managed to secure his release by promising they hadn’t been coerced. So how does one man satisfy the romantic needs of so many women? “God has given me the power and strength to give them the sexual portion they need,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “If I didn’t satisfy them, they would leave.”

Even best-laid plans go awry

It was, in fact, GPS that led Rita Chretien and her husband, Albert, astray, Rita told her pastor last week. “When we first went off the road, we thought it would just be a short road, and we’d be back to the main road right away,” the B.C. woman, who survived seven weeks alone in remote Nevada, told Neil Allenbrand of Penticton’s Church of the Nazarene. “The next thing we know, we turned down the wrong road and we were where we shouldn’t be—and it’s dark, and we can’t find a way to turn around.”

Pride and prejudice

Being black made Don Lemon’s decision to come out especially difficult, the CNN anchor told the New York Times this week. “It’s about the worst thing you can be in black culture,” said Lemon, who revealed his sexuality in a new memoir, Transparent. “You’re taught you have to be a man—you have to be masculine.” It’s a tough go in pro sports, too, said Phoenix Suns exec Rick Welts, who also came out this week. “This is one of the last industries where the subject is off-limits,” Welts told the New York Times. But a conversation is beginning. Basketball great Grant Hill has launched a well-intentioned ad campaign: “Using ‘gay’ to mean dumb or stupid—not cool,” he says. The NBA launched its “Think B4 You Speak” campaign after Kobe Bryant was caught mouthing a gay slur at a referee last month, which earned the Lakers guard a not-so-cool $100,000 fine.

Your presence is requested as we renege on our vows

Charles Bronfman and his wife, Bonnie, invited 100 of their closest friends to an “elegant evening of cocktails” for what they hope, the New York Times reports, will be a once-in-a-lifetime event. The occasion: their divorce, which ends a three-year union between the Canadian-born former chairman of the Seagram Company and his architect wife. The unhappy couple insists their friendship was “stronger without being married.” So why the divorce? “Bonnie is an intellectual. I am anything but,” said Charles. “I like Florida in the winter. I don’t want to go to lectures. I thought, my world will be expanded,” he added. “Guess what? It didn’t work.” For those left wondering what one wears to a divorce party, the embossed invites request “business attire.”

Swallowed by a puddle

Jim McKnight and his wife, Dawn Sealey, were driving down a gravel road in Manitoba last week when they hit a puddle. Seconds later, the engine conked out and water began pouring into their truck. The ice, it turned out, was covering a huge sinkhole. Within seconds, the water was up to their waists. “Roll down your window,” Jim shouted. “Now!” Their truck was sucked down with terrifying power and speed, Dawn told the Winnipeg Free Press. She managed to grab the family dog and swim to safety. But Jim got trapped. He swam under the ice, “banging his hand, then his head” to break through, she said. Jim was sure he was a goner. “I don’t know how or where I managed to break the ice but I had no breath left whatsoever.”

Orange wave strikes again

A judicial recount in an eastern Quebec riding last week overturned an incumbent Tory’s win—leaving Stephen Harper with just five MPs in Quebec. François Lapointe took Montmagny–L’Islet–Kamouraska–Rivière du Loup by just nine votes over Bernard Généreux, who’d represented the riding since knocking off the Bloc Québécois in a 2009 by-election. Lapointe’s win gives the NDP 103 seats overall, tying them with Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives for the largest ever official Opposition to a majority government.

A fading fight

Undeterred by a bomb threat, Queen Elizabeth II flew to Dublin last week—the first visit by a British monarch in a century to the Republic of Ireland. Her visit marks a symbolic end to the Anglo-Irish conflict, the Western world’s most enduring fight. The Queen, dressed in emerald green and St. Patrick’s blue, placed a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance, a central Dublin park honouring Irish rebels who died fighting to free Ireland from British control. “There were no apologies, no acknowledgment of past wrongdoings,” the Associated Press reported, “no words at all, in fact, in a ceremony highlighted by a minute’s silence.” Her stunning presence on what Irish republicans consider sacred ground sent a powerful message in itself.

Christmas in May

For one Winnipeg family, Christmas came late this year. Last December, Robert Moffatt and his dad John popped into a Petro-Canada gas station to buy a Lotto Max ticket for the Christmas Eve draw. Amid the seasonal bustle, Robert promptly forgot all about it. When he finally dug out the ticket last week, he realized they’d won the $1-million draw. Some might have shouted or jumped for joy. Not Rob. He met his dad for coffee and quietly shared the happy news, he told the Winnipeg Free Press. “He might have been calm,” said John, who plans to buy a new diesel car, with a chuckle, “but I was pretty excited.”

Reckoning

Jack Tobin, the 24-year-old son of former federal cabinet minister and Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin, pleaded guilty to impaired driving causing death this week. The plea stems from the death in Ottawa last Christmas of Alex Zolpis, Tobin’s best friend. The court heard that Tobin, who had drunk over twice the legal limit, was behind the wheel of his rented truck performing “doughnuts” on the ice-covered roof of a multi-storey parking lot. After a passenger told Tobin to stop, the group discovered one friend lying beneath the truck and pulled him out unhurt. Then they found Zolpis caught in the truck’s driveshaft and attempted the same—unsuccessfully. “I know I am responsible for what’s happened,” Tobin told police after his arrest. “I want to do the right thing for everyone…I drank, I drove, now someone’s dead.” The Crown will seek a “substantial jail term” for Tobin, who is next due in court in August.

Starring Sarah

Comedienne Sarah Silverman filled an awkward appearance on Fox’s Baseball Game of the Week with bizarre non-sequiturs about “loser” Red Sox fans and Jewish hang-ups before suggesting pitchers be allowed to take, not steroids, but LSD. As a mortified Tim McCarver murmured, “No, no,” Silverman cheerily explained she wasn’t talking about it for a young “developing brain,” but just major leaguers, “as a treat.”




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