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Ross Rebagliati sends smoke signals on monarchy

Gold-medal winning snowboarder Ross Rebagliati holds his skateboard and the Olympic torch as at the end of his leg of the relay in Osoyoos, B.C. on Jan. 25, 2010.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER - Olympic gold medal snowboarder Ross Rebagliati is being mocked by Stephen Harper's Tories in an internal memo for his views opposing the monarchy in Canada.

The memo to MPs and party supporters is laced with references to being "high." (Recall that Mr. Rebagliati's gold medal was taken away after traces of marijuana were found during a drug test at the Nagano Olympics. It was returned to him when officials realized they had made a mistake.)

"Liberal Party Candidate Isn't High on the Monarchy" is the headline of the missive. "Michael Ignatieff's Liberal candidate in Okanagan-Coquihalla, Ross Rebagliati, sure has a high opinion of himself," reads another part of the memo. Mr. Rebagliati is running for the Liberals in the B.C. riding against Treasury Board President Stockwell Day.

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The mocking memo was provoked by an interview Mr. Rebagliati gave to a German on-line publication in which he mused about the monarchy, saying he felt the " Commonwealth is over."

Today, in an interview with The Globe, Mr. Rebagliati didn't back away from his comments. He said that it is "time for Canada to stand alone" and the monarchy "doesn't have to be part of our government any more."

"We love the Queen and she is a great representative of the people and basic human rights," Mr. Rebagliati said. "For the most part she stands for everything good. It boils down to Canadians wanting to be Canadians and not have another country dictate - I don't mean dictate - set the standard or path for Canada."

He added that Canada is a democracy and that he does not "see the word monarchy in democracy."

He is not alone in his view of the monarchy. In 2002, just before a royal visit to Canada, former deputy prime minister John Manley set off a controversy when he said the Queen should not be replaced when her reign ends.

The Conservatives are trying to tie Mr. Rebagliati's views to Mr. Ignatieff, asking in the memo if the Liberal Leader shares his candidate's perspective. Mr. Rebagliati told The Globe that he was at Mr. Ignatieff's official residence, Stornoway, for dinner recently but the subject never came up.

When asked about the Liberal Leader's views on the monarchy, a senior Ignatieff official said: "Mr. Rebagliati's views aside, we will welcome Her Majesty when she comes to Canada later this year."

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The official added: "Really, that's all they can think about? On the day a CFIB report says that the Conservative payroll tax hike may cost 200,000 jobs? Come on! For people who claim to know what ordinary Joes are talking about at Tim Horton's, talking about the monarchy, today? Are they trying to find an excuse to have Fleet Street taking shots at Canada again?"

Meanwhile, the Tories also strangely quibbled with Mr. Rebagliati's criticism of Mr. Harper's performance at the National Arts Centre last year.

"Rebagliati also accused the Prime Minister of wearing a tuxedo during his lauded performance of the Beatles' With a Little Help from my Friends," the Tory memo says. "He must be confused - it wasn't the Prime Minister wearing a tuxedo - it was Michael Ignatieff during his speech in London, England, this past summer."

The Tories even provide a link to a picture of Mr. Ignatieff in formal dress delivering his speech. In the Conservative world, tuxedos are apparently a bad thing.

For his part, Mr. Rebagliati says that he is not "an expert on suits" and when he saw the Prime Minister at a grand piano he assumed that one would be wearing a tuxedo.

"Maybe the grand piano caught me off guard," he said.

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(Photo: Mr. Rebagliati holds his skateboard after his run with the Olympic torch in Osoyoos, B.C., last month. Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

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