OPENING NOTES

Reagan defends democracy, Helen Shaver changes a script and Italy’s daring parliamentarian fights for her way of life

January 2 1989

OPENING NOTES

Reagan defends democracy, Helen Shaver changes a script and Italy’s daring parliamentarian fights for her way of life

January 2 1989

OPENING NOTES

Reagan defends democracy, Helen Shaver changes a script and Italy’s daring parliamentarian fights for her way of life

A LESSON IN DEMOCRACY

After he delivered a speech at the University of Virginia in Charlotteville before Christmas, Ronald Reagan took a few questions from some of the students in his audience. One of them, Bernard McNamee, asked whether the U.S. President thought that democracy was growing in the Soviet Union under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan, who will be succeeded by George Bush on Jan. 20, recalled an address he gave to students at Moscow State University during a visit to the Soviet Union last spring. "I found out afterward that they couldn't get all the student body in," said Reagan, "so they decided the few hundred would be those who were members of the Young Communist League." Reagan's point was that this was hardly democratic. But laughter broke out among the University of Virginia students. The reason: student members of Reagan's Republican party at the university had organized a group to line up overnight to ensure that almost all of the 500 tickets available for the President's speech would go to them. And although there had been a lottery to determine who could ask questions of the President, the first name chosen happened to be that of McNamee, president of the Republican chapter. All other student questioners were also members of the chapter. That seemed to show that in the United States, as much as in the Soviet Union, some students are more equal than others.

A MONETARY OVERSIGHT

Many residents of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island said that the oversight was typical of Ottawa’s insensitivity to their region. For three weeks, the Bank of Canada has been promoting its sale of mint dollar bills, priced at $50 for a sheet of 40, as “super Christmas gifts.” But because neither of the island provinces has a Bank of Canada agency, residents have been unable to get the bills. Said Patrie Martel, a broadcaster with CBC’s Island Morning radio show in Charlottetown: “It’s maddening as hell. ” To coin a phrase.

A bridge to the past goes up in smoke

For brothers Stephen and John Gillis of Red Bank, N.B., the turn-of-the-century covered bridges that dot their province are endangered links to New Brunswick’s past. To celebrate the province’s tradition, the Gillises recently released a book of their photos titled No Faster Than a Walk: The Covered Bridges of New Brunswick. The title refers to the signs that warn users not to cross at high speeds. In the 1930s, there were about 360 wood-covered passways, but over the years heavy traffic, weather and vandalism reduced the number to 72. Still, New Brunswick is one of the few provinces whose residents can boast about the reminders from another era. Indeed, Quebec and Ontario are the only other provinces that have any such bridges. The cover photo for the Gillises’ book captures the 1899 Burnside Haines bridge, northeast of Fredericton. But when John Gillis took his photo of the bridge, the brothers had no way of knowing that it was the most endangered of all: only four months later, in November, 1984, arsonists burned the Burnside Haines to the ground.

AN EXPECTANT CHANGE OF SCRIPT

When Toronto writer Donald Martin wrote the screenplay for No Blame, the story of a woman who tests positive for the AIDS virus, he was determined that Helen Shaver play the lead. But when the Los Angeles-based actress phoned Martin last April to tell him that she would like to have the part, she added one qualification—the native of St. Thomas, Ont., would be six months pregnant when shooting was set to begin last June. Undaunted, Martin rewrote the script and presented Shaver with an altered part in which the actress would play a pregnant woman. The result, according to Martin, was “a much stronger film with an even broader message about the social consequences of AIDS.” And last week, the World Health Organization decided that it will show the movie during its fifth annual conference on AIDS in Montreal next June. Said Douglas McCullough, an arts consultant for the conference: “It puts a human face on AIDS.”

Gossip and the Enquirer

America’s favorite purveyor of gossip may soon be in the hands of a Canadian. Last month, trustees for the estate of National Enquirer owner Generoso Pope Jr., who died in October at the age of 61, confirmed that the tabloid is up for sale—for $500 million. Now many media analysts are speculating that Michael Rosenbloom, the Montreal-based publisher of three Enquirer competitors—the Globe, the Sun and the National Examiner—is a likely buyer. But Rosenbloom declined to confirm or deny that rumor—in the tradition of many of those covered in the weekly.

MIXED TIDINGS ON THE HILL

In March, 1987, as Ottawa prepared for the April summit between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, several presidential aides were considering impeaching their boss. The reason: their conviction that the Iran-contra scandal had severely depressed Reagan, making him unfit for office. According to leaked memos, some aides felt that Reagan was lazy and inattentive, only interested in watching television and movies. Eventually Howard Baker, then White House chief of staff, rejected the impeachment proposal. The President may not have recovered entirely, however, when he reached Ottawa. His comment on acid rain: "I'm not against it. I'd like a total reduction of it."

Appealing for justice

Italy’s pornography industry is suffering. Earlier this month, the country’s constitutional court outlawed the sale and rental of pornographic videotapes. For about 5,000 retailers across the country that was a major blow: in 1987, total sales were almost $80 million. And in another development, one of the industry’s stellar advocates faced a battle of her own. Ilona Staller, also known as “Cicciolina,” or “the little fleshy one,” had been a champion of sexual freedom in Italy before her election to parliament in June, 1987. But the star of steamy films who used to disrobe at campaign gatherings was censured by her party members earlier this year partly because she continued her public strippings—and also because she had missed 219 of 268 parliamentary votes. In September, 1987, Staller had appeared in public in Venice dressed only in a see-through skirt, and the local magistrate petitioned parliament to censure her. As a result, Staller lost her right to parliamentary immunity last June—which until then had prevented authorities from charging her with several counts of public indecency. Authorities say that they will soon decide whether to lay those charges, and Staller is preparing an appeal against the court decision. Presumably, she intends to bare all.

SUPPLY-SIDE CELEBRATIONS

Despite the nation’s problems, it was still the season to be jolly during the Christmas countdown in Ottawa. The NDP entertained at a $30-a-head party in the Laurier Room of the Parliament Buildings. And officials of the Liberal party, which has recently suffered debt problems, charged $15 per person to cover the cost of their buffet dinner celebration. The price may have been right—but the Christmas spirit seemed lacking. Despite a request that the 1,000 invited guests bring donations for the Ottawa Food Bank, partygoers left only 300 items. The Tories, meanwhile, entertained at the city’s Congress Centre at $25 a head. Missing was the traditional, blue-suited Tory Santa Claus, That may have been because one of the most popular exSantas is no longer available for federal duty. Former MP Lincoln Alexander now gets his fill of parties as lieutenant-governor of Ontario.