“Corridors of power” was a phrase first coined by British writer, scientist and government bureaucrat C.P. Snow in his 1956 novel Homecomings to capture the sense that political power is as much a locale as an expression of democratic authority. Power in a democracy may originate from the ballot box, but it can be found in ample supply wherever important decisions are made and influence wielded. (That Snow later reused his famous phrase as the title of a subsequent book suggests he knew he was on to a big idea.)
It is with the task of uncovering and explaining Canada’s current corridors of power that Maclean’s proudly presents our first-ever Power List, featuring the 25 most important people in Ottawa.
There’s no single formula or method for determining who wields power or influence and who does not. To compile our unique list, Maclean’s unparalleled team of reporters, columnists, bloggers and editors leveraged their knowledge of how the capital operates and worked their contacts to discover who gets heard, who gets their way and who can make things happen. The results may come as a surprise.
As ought to be expected, there is power to be found around the federal cabinet table. But power also exerts itself in bureaucrats’ offices, on the dais of the Supreme Court, in embassies, schools and private corporations, at radio-station studios and even in the handling of the Prime Minister’s daybook.
A mere 10 of Ottawa’s 25 most powerful people are elected officials. Of these, only five sit in cabinet. Beyond a few opposition MPs with equally high profiles, such as Thomas Mulcair, leader of the official Opposition, and putative Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, plus a few public servants with obvious clout—Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, for instance, and Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin—the bulk of our list comprises people many Canadians will not have heard of.
Few Canadians would be able to recognize Treasury Board secretary Yaprak Balticioglu, Mulcair’s chief of staff Raoul Gebert or Conservative party director of operations Jenni Byrne. Yet all three confidently stride Ottawa’s corridors of power. Fame and power are two different concepts. You can have one without the other.
In fact, it is not even necessary to work in Ottawa to make the Power List. Two members of our list—radio host David Rutherford and oil-patch lobbyist D’Arcy Levesque—hail from Calgary. Consider it further evidence of the shifting gravity of power in the Harper era. And influential government critic Alex Himelfarb is director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs at York University in Toronto.
In many ways the Power List, with its focus on spotting the influencers in Ottawa, serves as a necessary companion piece to our sixth annual Parliamentarians of the Year awards, which were presented this week at a gala ceremony in Ottawa.
This year’s Parliamentarian of the Year is Green party leader and Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May, who’s recognized for her efforts in bringing a unique and compassionate perspective to the rough-and-tumble world of the House of Commons. She thus joins previous honourees Bob Rae, John Baird, Jason Kenney, Bill Blaikie and Ralph Goodale in elevating the discourse in Ottawa. (Unlike the Power 25, MPs themselves decide on these awards. In each category, every MP votes for one member of their own party plus one member from another party, with the scores weighted accordingly.)
Other highlights from our 2012 awards include 30-year-old Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton, who went from second runner-up last year to winner of the Best Represents Constituents category, as well as Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform
party, who received a Lifetime Achievement award. (See “Parliamentarians of the Year,” for the full list and coverage of the event.)
Where the Power List is dominated by unelected officials who make things happen behind the scenes, our Parliamentarians of the Year awards recognize the unsung efforts of elected officials. The life of a federal MP is tough work, with endless travel, massive briefs and rigorous public scrutiny. Honest, hard-working and credible politicians are the lifeblood of democracy and Canadians are fortunate to have so many on display in Ottawa. We’re pleased to salute this year’s winners.
Together, the Power List and Parliamentarians of the Year awards are two more ways in which Maclean’s delivers unmatched coverage and insight into the inner workings of Ottawa and its many corridors of power.