1. Code of silence lifted. Olympic gold medalist Ross Rebagliati has recounted to Michael Ignatieff's Liberals the outpouring of support he received from Canadians when his gold medal was in doubt. "I'll always remember one Canadian in particular, who took a gamble on my behalf and phoned me in Japan to wish me all the best as I defended my win and Canada's gold," he told caucus yesterday.
"He said, 'Canada supports you.' That support made all the difference. That phone call was from Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. And not a moment too soon, I might add."
Mr. Rebagliati was referring to the famous incident during the 1998 Nagano Olympics when his snowboarding gold medal was taken away after a drug test showed traces of marijuana. The finding was quickly overturned and the medal returned.
The athlete is a star candidate for the Liberals; he is running in the the British Columbia riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla against veteran politician and senior Conservative cabinet minister, Stockwell Day. It will not be an easy campaign.
Mr. Rebagliati, meanwhile, had initially avoided talking to the media after a Globe and Mail inquiry as to what he was planning to say to the Liberal caucus. The message was relayed that he was not to speak to reporters. Yesterday, however, his wife, Alexandra, who serves also as his communications strategist, sent out his speech with this note attached: "Ross has been cleared to release his speech."
In the speech, Mr. Rebagliati takes a number of shots at the Prime Minister: "And when Stephen Harper plays the politics of spite and spin, cynicism and apathy, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal Party will rally this country to common purpose."
He also spoke about the upcoming Olympics: "I know better than anyone how the Olympics can bring our country together," he said. "We're going to watch our athletes go for gold. And even if some Conservative ministers try to sneak their way on to the podium, Canadians are going to see right through it - we're going to cheer on the athletes who have worked hard, who are ready to win, and who are going to make us proud to be Canadian!"
The snowboarder, who is in real estate now, also addressed the challenge Mr. Day poses: "We're going to knock Stockwell Day off his 'Sea-Doo' once and for all!"
Love the enthusiasm but defeating such a seasoned Tory will not be an easy undertaking.
2. Cabinet outtakes: Stockwell Day and his man purse. Coincidentally, as Mr. Rebagliati was delivering his speech his opponent, Stockwell Day, was being promoted and having praise heaped upon by his boss and former rival, Stephen Harper. This will only increase Mr. Day's chances for success in his riding; he is a high-profile and effective minister.
Indeed, Mr. Day was the clear winner in yesterday's cabinet shuffle, tapped by the Prime Minister to handle the country's purse strings as the new Treasury Board president. Mr. Day, however, takes issue with that. Mr. Day prefers to call his purse as a "murse." And yes, he has one.
Here's what he had to on CTV's Power Play yesterday: "I call it 'murse' because I carry one. That's a male purse. We don't confine it just to purses."
Meanwhile, we don't yet know what he carries in his murse. And we also don't know yet how the Reform/Alliance wing of the party will respond to Mr. Day as metrosexual? Has he gone Ottawa?
3. Cabinet outtakes: Rona Ambrose and Kilimanjaro. Ms. Ambrose is the other winner in yesterday's shuffle after she was promoted from the junior Labour post to the huge Public Works portfolio. She almost didn't make the swearing-in, however.
Ms. Ambrose had just descended the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro when she was contacted to return to Canada immediately, according to a friend. She hiked 20 kilometres through the Tanzanian jungle to get off the mountain in time to catch a plane that then took 20 hours to get her to Ottawa in time for the swearing-in ceremony at Rideau Hall.
(Photo: Mr. Rebagliati races to gold on February 8, 1998, in Japan. Franz Pammer/Reuters)