Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS October 6 1997
Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS October 6 1997

Opening Notes

Whither the Bronfmans


Among Quebec’s political and business elite, who is staying and who fleeing is of vital importance. Now, the rumor mill has turned to the rich and powerful Bronfman family. The catalyst was the recent departure of Tom Axworthy, who for the past 13 years has been executive director of Charles Bronfman’s CRB Foundation, which produces Heritage Minutes for TV and movie theatres and supports a variety of charitable causes. Axworthy’s move from Montreal to Toronto—to open another office for the foundation—set off widespread speculation that Bronfman might be leaving, as well. But Axworthy, the younger brother of Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, is trying to downplay any wider implications. He says the foundation’s head office remains in Montreal, where he has taken a small apartment for the day or two each week he expects to be there. And it was his wife’s work, he says, that prompted their move. “Roberta,” Axworthy says, “has an Ontario teacher’s certificate and wants to resume her career as a teacher.” And he specifically tried to dismiss any suggestion that the Bronfmans, with their grown children and far-flung business interests, are leaving Montreal altogether. “They have personal agendas,” he says, “which have nothing to do with Quebec.” Axworthy may have a point. Bronfman is co-chairman, with his brother Edgar, of New York City-based distilling giant Seagram

Co. Ltd., whose holdings include Los Angeles-based entertainment conglomerate Universal Studios Inc. And Charles Bronfman’s Claridge Israel, a Tel Aviv holding company, has become one of that country’s largest companies. Not surprisingly, then, Bronfman and his wife, Andrea, are rarely in Montreal. While they keep a residence there, they now divide most of their time among homes in Jerusalem, Palm Beach, Fla., and New York, where they bought an apartment near Central Park more than a year ago. He apparently likes the place: a Bronfman intimate says that he applied for the baseball commissionership, a position headquartered in New York. Montreal may still claim him, but Bronfman is a man of the world.

Boffo business in Beanie Babies

The cuddly, red Tickle Me Elmo doll stopped giggling months ago. And with the help of some school boards, which banned the Tamagotchi and its imitators, the summer’s virtual pet craze has peaked.

But Beanie Babies—now there's a fad that kids, and many adults, can grab hold of and run with. The palmsized, cushy creatures— essentially fancied-up bean bags, which come in 80-plus varieties—normally sell for about $9 each. And they have been so hot for so many months that Beanie Babies have become nearly impossible to find in some parts of the country. Some Vancouver stores, for instance, have lists

of customers waiting for the next shipment, and a black market has developed. The Internet has Beanie Baby Web sites, where discontinued critters such as Chilly the White Polar Bear trade for $875, or Humphrey the Camel for $900. One of the hottest and most enduring Beanie Babies is Maple Bear— a white bear with a Canadian flag on its chest. Americans in particular covet the creature because they cannot buy it in the United States. In one Vancouver store, ICE Fashionable Accessories, U.S. tourists have snatched up Maple Bears for $150 each. Bill Harlow, vicepresident of distributor Ty (Canada) Inc., says the Chicagobased company was not prepared for the toys’ success. “We feel like a tidal wave has hit us.” Or a hill of beans.

The Moscow hustle

As part of its efforts to combat international crime, the RCMP has officers stationed at 20 posts around the world. But the Mountie recently assigned to Moscow received a speedier introduction to Russian lawlessness than he had anticipated. The officer—who requested for security reasons that his name not be used— arranged to have a personal vehicle shipped to the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. “It’s a clunker, a grey 1993 Plymouth van,” he says. “I figured it would be perfect transportation for Moscow.” It was—for someone else. Soon after the van arrived, one of the embassy’s Russian drivers went to register it with local traffic police and pick up Russian licence plates. But he had to stop filling out forms—and report the van stolen from its parking spot outside the police station. “That’s the routine,” says the RCMP inspector. “I’d heard that thieves hang around near the registry office looking for likely targets.” Now, as he works with local police on an investigation in which he has a personal interest, Moscow’s Mountie is still hoping to get his van.

Sponsors' problems with the p-word

When Quebec writer Fabienne Larouche developed the idea for a television series about three photographers, she never imagined how topical the subject matter would become. “I thought it was a nice title,” says Larouche of Paparazzi, a 10-part drama that airs this week on the French-language private TVA network. But the word used to describe a breed of aggressive photographers now appears less palatable to the original sponsors of the series. Jean Coutu Group Inc., a Quebec-based pharmacy chain, and Volkswagen Canada Inc. both withdrew as sponsors after Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a fatal car crash in Paris on Aug. 31. Police are still investigating whether paparazzi played a role in the accident. Jean Coutu Group, which will redirect its advertising to other time slots, also scrapped plans for a related promotional campaign asking amateur photographers to send in amusing or unusual pictures. Still, Paparazzi will go on as scheduled. Local Volkswagen dealers will run some commercials during the series, and Larouche says other advertisers are interested. But she is not willing to predict what impact the controversy surrounding the paparazzi will have on the ratings. Larouche, 38, who co-wrote the series with Réjean Tremblay, a sports writer at the daily La Presse, just hopes it will prompt viewers to question whether public figures are entitled to a private life.

No ghosts in her closet

Céline Dion’s legions of fans will have no shortage of reading material this fall. Three books—two in French, one in English—on the hugely successful Quebec pop star are slated to hit bookstores in October. But anyone looking for tantalizing tidbits that might detract from 29-year-old Dion’s persona as the friendly, unpretentious girl next door may be disappointed. Kingston,

Ont.-based Quarry Press promises that its unauthorized biography, Falling into You: The Story of Céline Dion, by local author Barry Grills, is “not a book of revelation, it’s a book of celebration.” Says publisher Bob Hilderley: There is no scandal to be discovered; there are no ghosts in the closet.” As for the other oooks due in October, the two Quebec pub-

lishers are not divulging details. “There will be revelations,” says Evelyn Mailhot, a spokesman for Les Editions Québec Amérique. But she quickly adds that they won’t be sensationalistic: “It’s a biography that’s very respectful of Céline Dion.” Dion’s husband, René Angélil, meanwhile, is vigilant about trying to exert control over her image. Last year, he paid a Quebec author, Nathalie Jean, to delay publication of an unauthorized biography of Dion until 1999. Jean, who declined to say how much she was paid, has since dropped the project. The pop diva is, however, cooperating on a fourth book, by Quebec journalist Georges-Hébert Germain, who is documenting her life on the road (no publication date has been set). For now, the image of Quebec’s much-scrutinized sweetheart remains untarnished.


FIRED: Baseball manager Cito Gaston,

53; by the Toronto Blue Jays. Hired as an interim manager in May, 1989, the easygoing Texan guided the team for nearly nine seasons, winning four division titles and the World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. Gaston, whose wife is Canadian and, unlike most Blue Jay players, actually lives in Toronto, is the only AfricanAmerican manager to win a World Series. But he was fired after four straight losing seasons, culminating in this year’s lastplace finish.

APPOINTED: Four new members to the Senate; by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Ottawa. The appointees: former Liberal MP Fernand Robichaud,

58, of Shippagan, N.B., who gave up his Commons seat so that Chrétien could reenter the House after becoming Liberal party leader in 1990; Catherine Callbeck, 58, of Central Bedeque, P.E.I., the former premier of Prince Edward Island; Sister Mary Alice (Peggy) Butts, 73, of Antigonish, N.S., where she was co-ordinator of social justice for the diocese; and Marisa Ferratti Barth, of Montreal, executive director of the Italian-Canadian Senior Citizens Association. In order that Butts, a Roman Catholic nun who took a vow of poverty 40 years ago, could meet the Senate requirement of having $4,000 in “real and personal property,” her Montreal-based order transferred some scrubland in the Antigonish area into her name. The four appointments give the Liberals a four-seat edge in the Senate over the Conservatives for the first time since September, 1990.

DIED: Folksinger and actress Hélène Baillargeon-Côté, 81, of a heart attack, at her Montreal home. A 40-year veteran of CBC Radio and television, she was best-known across Canada for Chez Hélène (1959-1973), which introduced anglophone pre-schoolers to French.

COMMISSIONED: Vancouver artist Christian Corbet, 31, to do a posthumous portrait of Diana, Princess of Wales;

by the London-based Royal Society of Arts. The portrait, which will be presented to princes William and Harry on Dec. 15, is Corbet’s third work of art for the Royal Family.