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The most powerful people in Canadian politics and lobby groups

Filtering out our 2014 Power List to rank the top 23 politians, lobbyists and regulators


 

Mulcair, Harper, Trudeau.(Chris Wattie/Reuters; Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

The 50 names on our 2014 Power List were released last week—naming the most powerful people in Canada. It’s a diverse list we put together with complete subjectivity, and finding commonalities among the group of 50 can make it hard to debate the list. So to help that debate along, we’ve cut the list along three lines. Here, we filter out and rank the 23 names from the closely tied worlds of politicians and lobbyists. Do you agree with our list? Is there someone who deserves an honourary mention? We invite you to write in our comments, tweet at us, or join us on Facebook to offer your own powerful case for a different list.

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This symbol indicates our weighting of the individual’s institutional standing. No surprise that the newly named head of Canada’s biggest bank ranks the maximum five. On the other hand, while we detect serious power in the creative clout of a certain movie director, he doesn’t head a studio or produce his own films, so we award him only a single blue pillar icon.

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This tells you how much timing mattered in our choice of a given individual, based on the way things look to us in late 2014. Power expresses itself, after all, through the tasks of the moment. You won’t have to read very far into our list to see that we recognize the pressing priority of the Ebola challenge: Five clocks to a doctor near the centre of the crisis. The same principle works in reverse: Names from sports that made our 2013 list because we were looking ahead to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia have fallen off entirely.

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The power that flows from great ideas is perhaps the most appealing kind. So we enjoy awarding multiple light bulbs to, as you’ll see, a university resident with new notions about linking academia to the community, or a young doc with new ways of thinking about the health of old folks.

Maclean’s 2014 Power List: The most powerful in politics and lobby groups

#23. Shawn Atleo (#46 on our Power List)
Pragmatist, incrementalist, motorcyclist

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SHAWN ATLEO

In January, 2013, moments before entering a crucial meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Shawn Atleo, chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), received a text message from Theresa Spence: “Since you have decided to betray me,” wrote the hunger-striking Attawapiskat chief, “all I ask of you now is to help carry my cold, dead body off this island.” To Atleo, the missive landed like a body blow.

Last May, after months of ceaseless, rearguard action from his political rivals, Atleo resigned partway through his term, becoming the first-ever AFN chief to do so. He’d had enough of Ottawa, he declared. He headed home to B.C., then travelled to the U.S. solo, by motorcycle.

The AFN’s loss was B.C.’s gain. Last month, B.C. Premier Christy Clark tapped the 47-year-old father of two to head a crucial new round of talks between First Nations, industry and government, raising an intriguing question: Can a leader’s power actually rise after he’s been dumped from office?

The job, more promising and powerful than anything the fractious AFN is attempting, seems tailor-made for the enterprising B.C. chief. Atleo, who got his business start by launching a coffee shop in east Vancouver, has long spearheaded First Nations collaboration with industry. (B.C. First Nations are involved in mining and energy projects worth $300 billion.) As he once told the Toronto Board of Trade: “We’re looking for partners. We’re open for business.” He was unlike anything the AFN had ever seen.

Atleo, a hereditary chief of the Ahousaht on western Vancouver Island, was schooled in the pragmatic, incrementalist approach favoured by B.C. Native leaders, who tend to negotiate for their rights. The method puts them at odds with the Prairie leadership, who tend to fight for theirs. “It is our time as indigenous peoples,” says Atleo. “We must smash the status quo.” — Nancy Macdonald

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#22. Jean-Pierre Blais (#41 on our Power List)
More than just cute kittens

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As chairman of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Jean-Pierre Blais is the most-watched federal regulator. The Conservative government wants consumers to see more price-cutting competition for cellphone services and more choice in how they pay for cable TV channels. Blais is supposed to make it happen. It’s routinely said the CRTC oversight spans a $100-billion business undergoing a revolution. But Blais sets himself up as a voice of caution. In the era of Netflix, Shomi and HBO online, he points out that about 60 per cent of Canadians don’t stream TV shows on their computers. “Canadians still watch on average 28 hours of traditional TV a week,” Blais said recently. “And the hours of viewing [spent on] online video services, including cute kittens on YouTube, is only 1.9 hours per week.” Still, when it comes to crafting new rules for service, and new safeguards for Canadian content, Blais is the man in the hot seat. — John Geddes

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#21. Rob Merrifield (#32 on our Power List)
Pipeline politics

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Rob Merrifield

By retiring from federal politics to become Premier Jim Prentice’s man in Washington, Rob Merrifield trades second-tier status in Ottawa for a front-line post as Alberta’s envoy in the fight to get Canadian oil to the U.S. market. A former co-chair of the Canada-U.S. interparliamentary group, Merrifield arrives at an interesting time to continue the six-year battle to make Keystone XL a reality: a newly elected Republican majority takes power in the U.S. Senate in January, eager to legislate the cross-border pipeline into reality. One obstacle: a potential veto by President Barack Obama, who wants a lengthy review by the State Department to be completed and is under pressure from environmental groups to reject the project. Merrifield will have to walk a fine line between exploiting Republican attempts to use the pipeline as a partisan weapon, while preventing Canadian oil from becoming politically toxic for Democrats. — Luiza Ch. Savage

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#20. Jason Kenney (#31 on our Power List)
Travel, schmooze, speak, inspire

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Jason Kenney

He’s everywhere. The minister of employment still does what he used to do when he was minister of immigration: Travel constantly, schmooze with everyone, speak eloquently on Conservative values, pick fights with Conservatives’ foes, back his leader faithfully, effortlessly inspire rumours he wants the boss’s job someday. No one in cabinet has more freedom to define the job his way than Jason Kenney. Having lined up a surprisingly large fraction of the immigrant vote for the Conservatives in 2011, he’s now trying to win respect for community colleges. They deserve “parity of esteem” with university grads, he says at every stop. College alumni vote Conservative far more often than university grads do. Whatever else he does, Kenney remains the Minister Responsible For Conservative Electoral Hopes. — Paul Wells

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#19. John Baird (#30 on our Power List)
Bring on the bad guys

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Minister of Foreign Affairs Baird speaks during Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

When the Conservative party reaches out to its supporters via email, it doesn’t simply tout its commitments to cut taxes and get tough on crime: it also talks about Stephen Harper’s leadership on the world stage. Foreign policy isn’t an afterthought for the Conservatives, it’s a key facet they are trying to sell ahead of next year’s vote. And while most of the credit is awarded the Prime Minister, it is John Baird who Stephen Harper has entrusted as the day-to-day face of government policy. Long one of Harper’s most able combatants and talented ministers, Baird is well-suited to the task of projecting the straightforward strength in foreign policy the government wants as its hallmark. Now, instead of fending off the opposition parties in question period each afternoon, he gets to take on the globe’s bad guys and scourges—though it should also be noted that his contributions in the House of Commons in the lead-up to the launching of airstrikes in Iraq were among the government’s best moments. — Aaron Wherry

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#18. Brad Wall (#28 on our Power List)
Everything but a cup that’s Grey

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Saskatchewan Premier Wall prepares to celebrate his re-election in his hometown of Swift Current

You’re tired of hearing it, but Brad Wall is still Confederation’s most popular premier according to Angus Reid’s approval ratings. Robert Ghiz’s surprise resignation in P.E.I. will also leave him as its longest-serving. Wall’s Saskatchewan Party is navigating a scandal over a SaskPower plan to install smart meters province-wide; 105,000 of the meters now have to be removed after they apparently caused nine minor house fires. But the CEO of the utility company has taken the fall, and other political conditions are looking favourable for the Sask Party. Earlier this month Wall hosted a summit with B.C. Premier Christy Clark and new Alberta Premier Jim Prentice: although he is the youngest of the trio, circumstances have made him the senior partner in a powerful western trade bloc that contains three of the four “have” provinces. Now if the only Riders could just go on another decent playoff run… — Colby Cosh

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#17. Don Iveson (#27 on our Power List)
Making it so

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Naheed Nenshi’s li’l northern buddy? It’s an easy assumption to make. The political playbook of Edmonton’s mayor borrows heavily from Nenshi’s, and the two of them are consciously teaming up to rebalance the Alberta treasury in favour of urban development. Like Calgary’s Nenshi, Don Iveson has succeeded in rallying youth to humdrum political activity. Like Nenshi he’s not afraid to emphasize his populist credibility by nerding out shamelessly in a Star Trek uniform. What one notices belatedly is that Iveson might actually be better at all of this than Canada’s Favourite Mayor. In last fall’s municipal election, Iveson was a baby-faced two-term councillor going up against a more experienced colleague and a popular newspaper columnist. Of the city’s 219 polling stations, Iveson won an unbelievable 218. He will need time to wrestle with the legacy of debt and tied-up city revenue left by his ambitious predecessor, Stephen Mandel. But at the tender age of 35, time is something he does have. — Colby Cosh

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#16. Alia Hogben (#24 on our Power List)
Right voice, right time

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When Alia Hogben took over the Canadian Council of Muslim Women a decade ago as the group’s executive director, few could have predicted the long-time bureaucrat from Ontario’s ministry of community and social services would emerge as one of the most compelling liberal voices of Islam in Canada. Her moderate Muslim perspective is indispensable. As a 2012 Order of Canada recipient, awarded for her work on women’s rights and promotion of interfaith dialogue, she is only the second female Canadian Muslim to receive that honour. She also has an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University and a column in the Kingston Whig-Standard, where she’s written how she was discouraged that many people, such as members of Islamic State, use religion as justification for unspeakable crimes. Recently, Hogben told the Canadian Press she’s disheartened that Stephen Harper did not denounce the anti-Muslim backlash in the aftermath of the Ottawa shooting. But Hogben is not one to point fingers. Rather, she champions Islam’s message of inclusivity. — Aaron Hutchins

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#15. Jim Prentice (#22 on our Power List)
Man and moment’s perfect match

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New West Partnership premiers Brad Wall (Saskatchewan), Christy Clark (British Columbia) and Jim Prentice (Alberta) meet in Sas

Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives swept four by-elections Oct. 27, sending opposition parties into a spiral of soul-searching and confirming that Albertans are prepared to give their new premier a chance. Jim Prentice, 58, walked away from a seven-figure CIBC salary to rescue the ethically challenged party whose continuous control of Alberta’s legislature has entered year 44. Even those who are exhausted by one-party rule in the province acknowledge the perfect match between man and moment. Prentice combines private sector accomplishment, strong business connections from Calgary to Bay Street, and decades of working with and for First Nations, who increasingly wield a moral veto over the pipeline infrastructure Alberta wants. An old Red Tory from the Joe Clark family tree, Prentice served as a roving talent in Stephen Harper’s cabinets without making pratfalls or visible enemies. To keep the Alberta PCs from dying of complacency, he’ll need all that ability. And a bounce-back in oil prices wouldn’t hurt. — Colby Cosh

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#14. Thomas Mulcair (#20 on our Power List)
Betting substance trumps style

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Thomas Mulcair

Up against Stephen Harper, a formidable long-serving incumbent, and Justin Trudeau, a flashy poll-topping interloper, Thomas Mulcair continues to more than hold his own—at least in the House of Commons. With his precise interrogative style, he’s the acknowledged master of question period. But this fall, the New Democratic Party leader is trying a new strategy—without giving up his prosecutor-in-chief mantle. Mulcair has begun, about a year before the federal election slated for Oct. 19, 2015, to roll out detailed policy. The first big push was for a federal program aimed at providing $15-a-day daycare, with any province an NDP government in Ottawa could coax into a deal. Mulcair even ventured on CTV’s daytime talk show The Social, which is co-hosted by four women, to try to sell his child care plan. So far, the polls don’t show him gaining on Trudeau, but Mulcair is betting that against a charismatic rival, his best shot at real power might just come from real policy. — John Geddes

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#13. Art Sterritt (#18 on our Power List)
A little louder than silence

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Anti-Enbridge protest, Kitamaat Village, BC, Canada STRRRD

It is hard to imagine a more powerful opponent to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline than Art Sterritt. The executive director of the Coastal First Nations, an influential lobby representing nine B.C. bands, he acts as an unyielding barricade to the 1,170-km pipeline that Canada’s oil industry dearly wishes will deliver Alberta crude to the coast.

“The facts are clear. Accidents happen, cleanup is impossible,” says Sterritt, 66, noting that BP has cleaned up less than one-third of the oil discharged into the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. In B.C., a spill would mark “the end of the coast as we know it,” he says, adding, “the end of our livelihood.”

In a recent PR coup, Sterritt, as amiable as he is intimidating, convinced Paul Simon to lend his song The Sounds of Silence to an anti-Northern Gateway TV ad, featuring haunting images from the Exxon Valdez spill, one of history’s most devastating. He is a chief architect of the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, which protects the world’s largest intact coastal rainforest from logging. It was Sterritt who declared the ban on grizzly hunting that chased trophy hunters off the traditional territories of the Coastal First Nations, and Sterritt who barred tankers from entering their waters. Ignore him at your peril, B.C. governments have learned.

But while Sterritt, the son of a Gitxsan hereditary chief, is militant, he’s not inflexible. He’s thrown his considerable heft behind B.C.’s nascent liquefied natural gas industry, a move that has put him at odds with his allies in the environmental movement. If spilled, liquefied gas would evaporate, he explains. Bitumen, on the other hand, would be impossible to clean up. “Our well-being is dependent on the health of our lands and waters,” says Sterritt. “And our lands and waters are now dependent on us.” — Nancy Macdonald

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#12. Joe Oliver (#17 on our Power List)
The outsider on the inside

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Oliver

Joe Oliver, Canada’s 74-year-old federal finance minister, automatically wields clout as the man governing the economy. With an election under way, that influence extends to shaping and selling the Conservative party’s spring budget/campaign platform focused on tax cuts—along with mobilizing the party in Toronto, where he represents Eglinton-Lawrence. The Montreal native, who holds a McGill law degree, a Harvard M.B.A. and names Margaret Thatcher as a hero, exudes a staid earnestness destined to be an asset when selling fiscal probity. Oliver’s establishment insider connections don’t hurt, either: he was elected in 2009 at age 69 after five decades on Bay Street—first in investment banking, then heading the Investment Dealers’ Association. Appointed Natural Resources minister as a rookie MP, he proved a tireless, if controversial, defender of industry. He sailed into Finance this spring when Jim Flaherty left politics. Now he’s centre stage as fiscal front man—and cannily without stealing too much of the spotlight. — Anne Kingston

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#11. Christy Clark (#16 on our Power List)
A pro at beating the odds

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British Columbia Premier Clark addresses supporters and Liberal party caucus members at a caucus meeting in Vancouver

Christy Clark did the unthinkable in the last B.C. election, raising the prostrated Liberals from the dead, winning the election for a party whose brand was so tarnished, it was considering a name change. The B.C. premier did it by promising voters a bright, new day—100,000 jobs and a trillion-dollar economic opportunity by kick-starting liquefied natural gas (LNG) development in the province’s north. On the hustings, she is magnificent. No one active in politics in Canada today can match the 49-year-old at the old-school game of retail politicking. Her magnetism, megawatt smile and innate charisma are rare gifts. But, just as Clark’s fate rested on LNG last year, her re-election in 2017 will hinge entirely on her ability to get at least one of the potential gas projects up and running. The odds are long, especially as the price of gas continues to crater. But Clark has made a career out of beating them. — Nancy Macdonald

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#10: Gerry Butts (#14 on our Power List)
Friendship on the way up

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There is an old photo of Gerry Butts and Justin Trudeau in their younger days that has made its way into the public domain—Trudeau in a sleeveless shirt, jeans and sandals; Butts in ripped jeans, sandals, a silly hat and long hair. It’s not simply funny in that way that all old photos highlight younger versions of ourselves and dated fashion choices—it’s also a reminder of the history Trudeau and his closest confidant share. Butts is now the most prominent (he’s a frequent and assertive tweeter) and powerful of a coterie of advisers around Trudeau that could form the basis of the next Prime Minister’s Office—provided they can seal the deal with an electorate that has at least shown an openness to the idea of Trudeau becoming prime minister. The former university mates are standing on the doorstep of our highest elected office, an achievement that would make political legends of them both. — Aaron Wherry

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#9. Justin Trudeau (#13 on our Power List)
Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee

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Justin Trudeau

The Liberals have led the other parties in national polls every month since Justin Trudeau became their leader. He draws the sort of fevered crowds you more often encounter at rock concerts. Stephen Harper almost never mentions Tom Mulcair in speeches, but he fairly snarls Trudeau’s name. Canadian politics in 2014 seemed like an endless referendum, not on anything Trudeau proposed, but on the very notion of him.

Now comes the hard part. Trudeau has a knack for saying outrageous things—like turning the Canadian Forces’ CF-18 fleet into a phallic symbol—and his seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time snap decisions have led him to eject every Liberal senator and two MPs from his caucus. It’s hard to build a bigger tent with a smaller army. But he’s recruiting smart young Liberal candidates in a lot of ridings. The Liberal palace guard just logged a persuasive victory in Ontario for Kathleen Wynne. Trudeau’s like the old urban myth of the bumblebee: theoretically he can’t fly, and yet there he is. — Paul Wells

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#8. John Tory (#12 on our Power List)
A chance to rebuild

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Mayoral Debate

Seldom has a politician revelled in post-election bliss like John Tory. In the days after Toronto’s Oct. 27 municipal election, the mayor-elect seemed to be everywhere, brushing cows at the Royal Winter Fair, or personally delivering mousetraps to the rodent-infested City Hall press gallery (while managing, somehow, to forgo the obvious joke). You can forgive the man his honeymoon: After three failed electoral races, Tory’s need for a win had reached crisis proportions.

This one was transformative, vaulting the 60-year-old overnight from lovable loser to political powerhouse. In shutting the door on the traumatizing Rob Ford era, Tory has roughed in an electoral bridge between Toronto’s downtown and its increasingly alienated suburbs, where Rob and Doug Ford had built a formidable support base. To be sure, it’s a shaky construct: Doug, who replaced his cancer-stricken brother on the ballot on Sept. 12, edged out Tory in two of the city’s three inner suburbs. But if Tory can keep Toronto united, he will be poised to restore the city to its place among the country’s most influential urban centres, leading the collective drive for improvements to transportation, economic activity and social services.

That’s a good thing—hard as it might be for other Canadians to admit. In the tumult of the Ford era, Toronto had been eclipsed by Vancouver and Calgary among cities embracing their growing economic and cultural importance, and its voice was missed. Yet the country’s largest city remains its undisputed financial hub, more so now that falling oil prices have Calgary on edge. And it’s hard to imagine a figure better equipped than Tory to harness Toronto’s energy. His experience in local corporate, media, political and non-profit circles yielded strong connections to players whose help he’ll need to advance its agenda. His reputed gift for persuasion can break down the barriers that stymied hard-headed Rob Ford. Shortly after Tory’s election, for instance, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair softened his long-standing resistance to cutting the city’s bloated police budget.

More seems possible thanks to a well-run campaign, in which Tory sidestepped the sort of landmines that in the past called his judgment into question. And while enormous challenges remain—Toronto remains beset by traffic gridlock, swelling poverty and hare-brained council decisions—the man wearing the chain of office has promised to bring back the city once “known as a beacon of respect for everybody.” For the first time in a long while, it seems possible to believe. — Charlie Gillis

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#7. Kathleen Wynne (#11 on our Power List)
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#6. Philippe Couillard (#10 on our Power List)
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Central Canada’s power couple

Ontario Premier Wynne walks to her news conference following Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Onley's throne speech at the Queen's Park Ontario Legislature in Toronto

A year ago Kathleen Wynne seemed the caretaker premier of a doomed Liberal government, and the Quebec oddsmakers would have given Philippe Couillard less-than-even odds of defeating the Parti Québécois after only one short term. But now the two hold solid majorities, and as they looked around and tried to understand how they managed it, each noticed the other—and found a kindred spirit.

Neither is much of a showboat. Each has senior cabinet-level experience in a predecessor’s government, but neither seems like a political natural. Each inherited a fiscal mess, which will require belt-tightening measures that will make it hard to maintain the popularity they enjoyed for a few weeks after their elections.

They bonded in a Toronto meeting before this August’s annual premiers’ conference in Charlottetown. At that broader conference, their common front was remarkable, and it bore quick fruit. Quebec returned as a full participant in a health care innovation working group the premiers are running, after 18 months of a PQ boycott. And the premiers’ final communiqué matched Wynne’s and Couillard’s wish list: calls for more infrastructure funding and a formula for increasing health care funding to account for aging populations.

“They really are quite compatible,” an aide to Wynne said. Each premier lauded the other’s abilities in separate interviews. Each has good reason to need a friend. Wynne campaigned against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to enhance the Canada Pension Plan as much as she did against her provincial opponents. He took it personally, and the two don’t talk. Couillard gets along quite well with Harper. His problem is closer to home, among his own electorate: the Quebec economy has stalled alarmingly since the spring, forcing painful decisions on spending cuts that have swiftly burned away the Couillard government’s popularity.

Philippe CouillardFortunately for Couillard, the opposition parties are in a state of disarray that gives him some time to achieve and demonstrate results. He handed the Parti Québécois its worst thumping in 44 years, and the shattered party has a long and divisive leadership campaign ahead of it. (If Couillard’s luck holds out, the PQ will pick newspaper tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau as their leader, a man with wafer-thin political experience whose blue-blood values clash with just about everything the social-democratic PQ holds dear.) The third party, François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec, leads the PQ in most polls these days, but it can’t manage to convey the impression that it’s a real party, instead of just Legault’s personal one-man show.

Wynne’s luck is more direct: the manufacturing regions of Ontario have surprised everyone by leading Canadian job growth in the last two months, with nearly 62,000 out of 117,000 jobs created Canada-wide.

These days, Ontario and Quebec cabinet ministers frequently confer with each other first before making moves outside their home provinces. The Wynne-Couillard power couple has fast become an effective counterweight to the so-called “big shift” that had been seeing populations, money, job and political power moving westward within Confederation. And because these two majority governments still have more than three years left before they face voters again in election campaigns, they are able to plan that long-time horizon together.

Any premier’s first priority is to put out fires at home; alliances abroad, even as far as the next province over, take a back seat. But this alliance between Wynne and Couillard is conscious and acknowledged by both. “It’s time to put Central Canada back at the centre of the map,” Couillard told reporters during an Ontario visit in October.

There’s one more reason why Couillard and Wynne will continue to have clout heading into 2015. Between them, their two provinces hold nearly 200 federal seats. Dozens of those seats have bounced from party to party in recent years and could do so again in the federal election next October. That means every federal leader will want to deliver on Ontario and Quebec priorities. For two provincial Liberal leaders whose future looked decidedly shaky only a year ago, today’s future looks bright. — Paul Wells

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#5. Jenni Byrne (#9 on our Power List)
Fought and conquered

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Jenni Byrne

On her right arm, Jenni Byrne has a tattoo of the traditional Byrne clan motto: Certavi et vici. In case your Latin is a little rusty, that translates as, “I have fought and conquered.” Her familial claim to that boast aside, Byrne has the political record to justify the ink. As the Conservative party’s director of political operations, deputy campaign manager for the Conservatives in 2008 and campaign manager in 2011, Byrne helped the party not only twice repeat the victory of 2006, but build to its current majority mandate. She joined the Reform party at the age of 16 and has been touted as a tough but astute organizer with an understanding of the party base. Now a deputy chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, she has again been asked to run the 2015 campaign. But the fight next year will be the hardest to date—re-election requiring Byrne & Co. to conquer a polling deficit, voter fatigue and history (not since Wilfrid Laurier’s Liberals has a party won for consecutive elections with the same leader). — Aaron Wherry

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#4. Bob Paulson (#8 on our Power List)
Command in testing times

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New RCMP Commissioner Paulson salutes during a change of command ceremony in Ottawa

It was the Oct. 22 shootings at the National War Memorial and then in the Parliament Buildings that prompted many Canadians to focus on the RCMP commissioner for the first time. Poised, fluently bilingual, willing to inject his own opinions into the usual cautious cop verbiage, Bob Paulson, 56, proved to be a commanding presence on a chaotic day. As the government moves to expand the RCMP’s anti-terrorism powers in the aftermath, Paulson will have to assuage concerns about any erosion of civil liberties. This won’t be the first delicate task he has taken on since being appointed the top Mountie in 2011. He was in the political spotlight earlier this year over his force’s finding that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, didn’t break any laws by giving $90,000 to then-senator Mike Duffy. At Duffy’s trial, set for next spring, the work of Paulson’s investigators is bound to come under closer scrutiny. — John Geddes

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#3. Janice Charette (#5 on our Power List)
A mandarin among hyper-partisans

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Janice Charette at the Public Policy Forum. CREDIT Public Policy Forum

Like all the mandarins before her who scrabbled their way to the federal bureaucracy’s top job, Janice Charette is routinely described as an “Ottawa insider.” The Privy Council Clerk has to be, of course, but there’s more to her than that. Since 2010, Charette has worked closely with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet. So, unlike the two previous clerks, with neither of whom Harper had much history before they became his most senior bureaucratic advisers, in Charette he picked a senior bureaucratic adviser he already knew well. Her CV includes a string of the expected top public service posts, but also stints as a political aide: She was Jean Charest’s chief of staff from 1997-98 when he was the leader of the old Progressive Conservatives. That was a long time ago, and Charette is viewed as properly neutral now, but her old experience in party politics might have left her with useful insights for navigating power circles in today’s hyper-partisan Ottawa. — John Geddes

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#2. Beverley McLachlin (#4 on our Power List)
Unruffled justice

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Beverley McLachlin

Beverley McLachlin, 71, is the longest-serving chief justice in the Supreme Court of Canada’s history. The established hallmarks of her leadership: a less fractious bench, more open to outsiders. Yet dramatic events have revealed new facets of her style. After the court rejected Stephen Harper’s choice of Marc Nadon to join its ranks early this year—on grounds that Nadon wasn’t eligible, as a federal court judge, to fill a Quebec vacancy—the Prime Minister’s Office lashed out at McLachlin. In public, at least, she was unruffled: “There’s always going to be tensions here and there, but it is part of the process.”

The court’s biggest decision next year could be on assisted suicide, on which McLachlin’s long tenure comes into play. She is the only judge still on the court who was sitting the last time the issue came before it—in the 1993 Sue Rodrigues case. Back then, the majority ruled against allowing assisted suicide. McLachlin wrote for the minority that would have allowed it. — John Geddes

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#1. Stephen Harper (#1 on our Power List)
Fourth time lucky?

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Maybe he’ll just be prime minister forever. In 2015 he will still be three years younger than Jean Chrétien was when the Liberal politician won the first of three consecutive majorities. But you hear more pundits betting on Harper’s downfall than on his triumph.

He ignores them. When’s the last time the conventional wisdom bet on Stephen Harper? Not in 2006, when the leader, then deemed to be devoid of charisma, first ascended to power by beating Paul Martin to form a minority government. And not even as recently as 2013, when Mike Duffy was hanging around his neck like the world’s biggest albatross, a popular bet in the Bytown saloons was that Harper would quit before Labour Day. Instead, as 2014 closes, the Commons debates are about whether his tax cuts are deep enough, universal enough, generous enough. That’s the kind of debate Harper has prayed for.

Winning a fourth consecutive election would be incredibly difficult. But he’ll go into the next campaign with the federal budget balanced and, he hopes, the bloom off Justin Trudeau’s rose. He has always sought to run as the sensible incumbent against reckless sorcerers’ apprentices. Within that frame, small surpluses are useful: there’s not enough money in the kitty to pay for Liberal-sized or NDP-sized ambitions. “Don’t vote for big spenders” is not a message to stir the heart.

But he doesn’t need to stir the heart. He needs to win. Only two other men have won four consecutive elections: John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier. Even Harper’s own supporters might blanche at the notion that he should rank in their company. But you count this guy out at your peril. — Paul Wells

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