Few moments have challenged our understanding of power as profoundly as the one we’re in. Remember the two or three years before “COVID-19” entered the global lexicon? Root-and-branch change was all around. Social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter were on the march. Technology had overthrown mainstays of business and the media, and new players were in ascent. Cornerstones of liberal democracy—rule of law; trust in institutions; the very notion of truth—had come under siege.
The pandemic has a way of erasing short-term memory. But of course, those forces of change go on. COVID, meanwhile, has flipped orders of power yet again. Seemingly overnight, hard-headed populists like Doug Ford were deferring to public health officials, while formerly obscure scientists persuaded us to reconfigure our lives. Apostles of fiscal rectitude stood down, giving way to believers in activist government and applause for debt-funded spending sprees that months earlier would have sent the economic hawks into paroxysms.
What, then, is influence in 2021? Who is advancing big ideas and shaping perceptions? Who is really leading Canada through its greatest upheaval since the Second World War? Why them?
These questions do not yield to algorithms, or to pat assumptions about power that begin with wealth and status. Any definition of power today must account for, say, the impact of Elliot Page, the Oscar-nominated actor who came out as trans; or that of Joyce Echaquan, the Indigenous woman from Quebec whose dying act was to livestream the cruel and offhanded insults of hospital staff who should have been saving her life. Echaquan’s voice, still heard, unleashed a wave of raw and righteous outrage, waking the country to systemic racism in health care and beyond.
For the purposes of the 2021 Maclean’s Power List (below), we canvassed the landscape for Canadians with qualities we think represent power in a time of transformative change. By dint of their actions, words or character, they force us to watch, listen and learn. They are moving the needle in their chosen fields, and in many cases the wider world. Importantly, they are good-faith actors. History may judge them wrong, but they act in the belief that doing so will result in a better world.
You may notice therefore a shortage of power brokers in the conventional mould—bank CEOs, cabinet ministers, scions, high-powered lobbyists. For this list, warming a seat in the establishment doesn’t cut it. Nor does preserving the status quo. Nor, certainly, does exercising power for the mere sake of disruption. (Peddlers of conspiracy and disinformation could be thought of as influential; you will not find them in this ranking.)
Given the foregoing, you may also arch a brow at the Prime Minister’s position at the top—this white, male avatar of dynastic politics who too often acts as if Canada’s highest elected office is his birthright. Consider it a matter of timing. Or, if you prefer, a tie. Tobias Lütke, No. 2, might be the most underrated titan in the country’s corporate history, the co-founder and CEO of a new-era upstart whose valuation is now greater than any Canadian company’s. During the pandemic, Shopify became a lifeline for businesses big and small, across Canada and around the globe.
But in our view, the conditions created by the public health crisis nudge Justin Trudeau ahead by a nose: it draws the spotlight, whose glare he doesn’t fear; its economic fallout has freed him to spray unheard of sums of money across the country. Meanwhile, the departure of personalities from his government and inner circle has by default made him an undisputed locus of power, and through it all he has successfully navigated the shoals of minority government. For better or worse, in varying degrees, we are all in his hands.
Whether Trudeau’s good fortune will outlast the pandemic, securing his place not only in our ranking but among Canadian PMs of enduring legacy, is an open question. For him, as for all of us, the ground is shifting.
The only Liberal now is a Trudeau Liberal
Who had more power in Canada in 2020, and was less inhibited about wielding it, than Justin Trudeau? Nobody. Nobody else comes close. Dismiss the Prime Minister if you like, knock his brains, his choices, his often demonstrably shaky adherence to principle. But in 2020, the central fact of Justin Trudeau’s place in the nation’s life was that he had and used power on a scale nobody in the country could match.Paul Wells explains why.
The wolf of Main Street
Lütke co-founded and now leads Shopify, the highest-valued company in the country, whose strength and influence only grew during the pandemic. The 15-year-old Ottawa-based software company lets merchants easily set up online stores with just a few clicks, and over the last year has powered the digital transitions of tens of thousands of desperate Main Street retailers across Canada, dramatically reshaping the country’s retail landscape.Jason Kirby explains why Lütke is No. 2 on The Power List.
Crying out for justice
Did she contemplate, in those final moments, that the gut-wrenching footage would spark a national outrage? That her memory would be honoured in nationwide vigils, the circumstances around her death decried with widespread protest?
Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw mother of seven from the community of Manawan, died not long after her Facebook live-stream. It showed staff at a Joliette, Que., hospital insulting her—swearing she’d be better off dead—as she begged for help. In the video, Echaquan expressed in Atikamekw that she worried about over-medication and being given drugs she was allergic to. But the cause of her death is not publicly known. A coroner’s inquest is under way, with hearings expected in 2021.
With her final act, Echaquan galvanized calls for governments to address systemic inequalities that have cost countless Indigenous lives. Her voice is driving a national conversation about racism in health care that was long overdue. She is still being heard, loud and clear.
Ottawa’s cleanup man
Most scandals don’t bring down governments, but every watchdog investigation is a potential land mine for the Prime Minister’s team. Dion, the ethics commissioner, can do more than most to cut short the Justin Trudeau era. He wrote a scathing report on the SNC-Lavalin affair that upended horse-race polls for months. He’s working up another, this time on Trudeau’s lapses in the midst of the summertime WE Charity foofaraw, and could hand Erin O’Toole all the ammunition he needs to send the PM packing.
Strength meets kindness
Through the frustrating, grief-stricken and seemingly interminable months of the pandemic, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more complete bit of advice than the “Be kind, be calm and be safe” mantra that Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s chief medical officer of health, usually offers at the end of her briefings. Henry gave B.C.ers information and invited them to join each other in protecting everyone instead of dropping the hammer. She’s been the personification of reassuring leadership—though she didn’t brush aside her own emotion on the press conference dais on the rare occasions when the tears welled up—and became a beloved figure who inspired fan T-shirts and a pair of eponymous designer shoes. Henry’s province did not emerge from the second wave as relatively unscathed as it did from the first. But Henry’s calm, cool—and kind—public health leadership should ensure she’s in the conversation for a national role in the future.
The minister of everything and more
Her meteoric popularity and indistinct “minister of everything” reputation gives off the sheen of a hyper-competent saviour-in-waiting. At some important juncture, Chrystia Freeland will be the one to swoop in and fix the big-L Liberal project. Ottawa is sure of it.
If, despite this aura of promise, the former journalist hasn’t made her permanent mark on Canada’s politics—aside from heading a formidable Trump-era effort to renegotiate NAFTA—now is surely the time. She has, more than anyone else in the Liberal stratosphere, the Prime Minister’s trust and the ears of his senior staff.
But the cult of personality that made Freeland a political darling has become a hindrance. She must not only manage a pandemic economic crisis and ballooning debt during a minority mandate, a precarious position for any finance minister, but also do so under the weight of heavily inflated expectations.
Freeland may have careful footing, hardened instincts and friends in high places, but the floor is lava. As she navigates a fine line between supporting her boss’s legacy and protecting her own potential, every step will matter.
Adieu, feckless populism
In pro wrestling, it’s known as the face turn: when the “heel” whom fans love to boo suddenly becomes their favourite. By casting aside partisanship to handle the pandemic, Doug Ford shot from the lowest approval rating among premiers to second-highest. (He’s since slipped.) He sympathizes with small business owners, yet slams anti-maskers and has talks with Chrystia Freeland that the Liberal federal finance minister calls “therapy sessions.” Where’s the Toronto councillor who once took a morning off to watch his brother arm-wrestle Hulk Hogan?
From protest to global movement
As the concept of defunding police gained traction following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis cops, Sandy Hudson was the person the Canadian media reached out to. Hudson co-founded the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, which made headlines in 2016 for stopping the city’s Pride parade in the middle of the summer heat. Less publicized, but of even greater impact, was the organization’s role in cancelling a program that placed police officers in Toronto’s public schools. Three years later, everyone from Google to PetSmart has come out in public support of Black Lives Matter. The systemic racism of Canadian institutions, from corporate boards to the media, is the focus of a public reckoning. And Hudson has emerged as not just an activist, but a thought leader, making an urgent case for policy measures that will effect true change.
Striking while the iron is hot
The plain-spoken, hard-working, blue-collar-to-the-core head of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, has had a big year. He kicked it off last January by getting arrested at a blockade over a pension dispute at Regina’s Co-op oil refinery. He went on to score huge wins at Auto Talks 2020. Jerry Dias helped secure billions in corporate and government funding to bring new contracts, some involving electric vehicles, to Big Three auto plants in Ontario—notably the recently idled GM facility in Oshawa, which will now make pickups. Dias sees these deals as not just good for his members, but also for the country, stimulating investment in the green economy across a range of industries. COVID-19 has changed the way we think about work: we realize the warehouse, food service and manufacturing employees we used to refer to as “low-skilled” are in fact “essential.” Dias aims to harness that realization to help unions reclaim power after decades of eroding membership.
Some ballots count more than others
It’s a political truism that inflates the importance of Canada’s largest metropolis and enrages everyone else: as goes the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), so goes a federal election. When a party strings together victories in places like Oakville, Mississauga, Newmarket and Ajax, there’s a good chance it’ll win government. Stephen Harper pulled off the feat in 2011, three years after winning a paltry six GTA ridings and being confined to minority rule. Next time around, he nabbed four times as many and got his majority, but the Tories have failed miserably there ever since. In 2015, Trudeau’s Liberals won all but three GTA seats on the way to their own majority. This is likely an election year, so we can once again expect to see pollsters and politicians tripping over each other to figure out what voters at the centre of the universe—fickle, demanding and accustomed to blandishment—want from their leaders.
Quebec’s wily, unapologetic premier
Coated in Teflon and facing weak opposition, Quebec Premier François Legault has enjoyed majority support since his 2018 election—and throughout the pandemic, despite the province’s country-wide lead in virus cases and deaths.
The wily politician has the vibe of a wise uncle from whom you might seek career advice: authoritative, straight-talking, reassuring. He is business royalty, having co-founded aviation giant Air Transat in the ’80s. He is a familiar face, having vaulted straight into Lucien Bouchard’s cabinet in 1998, overseeing education and, briefly, health. Ever the entrepreneur, he co-founded a new political party in 2011, the Coalition Avenir Québec, and has been its only leader.
A majority of Quebecers (and large minorities of Canadians elsewhere) support Legault’s secularism law, which forbids public-facing civil servants from wearing “religious symbols” like turbans and hijabs. Beefed-up language laws are next on the agenda. As other leaders tiptoe around these issues, Legault will be unapologetic.
Calm, clear and candid
As qualifications go for chief public health officer during a pandemic, specializations in infectious diseases, immunization and global health security—not to mention a co-writing credit on a report on preparing Canada’s health-care system for a pandemic—are as good as we could ask. No playbook could prepare Theresa Tam for the real thing, but she has calmly and persistently made the case for the simple yet life-altering changes needed to forestall all-out catastrophe. Her early pleas to stay home, practise physical distancing, wash hands and stay off cruise ships (remember those?) helped head off a worst-case scenario during the first wave. Criticism lingers over her evolving stance on mask-wearing and early resistance to strict travel bans, but greater concerns lie ahead: with lockdown fatigue growing amid the second wave, Tam must do her part to ensure Canadians get vaccinated in a sprawling, multi-jurisdictional rollout that can bring this nightmare to an end.
Deep breaths, Mr. Governor
Starting a new job is intimidating at the best of times, but Tiff Macklem may have taken on the most anxiety-inducing new role of 2020. The federal government appointed him Bank of Canada governor in May, in the thick of the first lockdown that closed businesses across the country and put a record number of Canadians out of work. It’s Macklem’s second shot at the top central bank job after he was passed over for Stephen Poloz in 2013, when Mark Carney left to become governor of the Bank of England. Under Macklem’s leadership, the central bank has stimulated the economy by purchasing government bonds, and has pledged to keep interest rates low—behind-the-scenes measures that are staving off investor panic and total economic meltdown. Expect Macklem to pursue his interest in putting the economy to work fighting climate change as the recovery unfolds.
Guy A. Lepage
The gold standard of talk TV
On any given Sunday, more than a million of Quebec’s 8.5 million people are watching Guy A. Lepage. Yet English Canadians need reminding every few years of Lepage’s impact as host of Radio-Canada’s Tout le monde en parle. He typically interviews celebrities, intellectuals and otherwise influential French Canadians in a group setting—often over a glass of wine to lighten the mood. But Lepage also lands his share of “gets,” such as Omar Khadr’s first major sit-down interview after Khadr’s war crimes sentence expired.
Facing Lepage is obligatory for federal leaders hoping to make inroads with Quebec voters, though none has replicated the success of the late Jack Layton, whose 2011 appearance spurred the NDP’s Orange Wave. Still, whether it’s Jagmeet Singh stating his party wouldn’t take Quebec’s religious-symbol law to court (despite his personal opposition to Bill 21) or Andrew Scheer admitting he smoked pot in his younger days, Lepage gives everyone something to talk about.
Retired Supreme Court justices
Legal authority on demand
Are you an institution, individual or corporation keen to prove how seriously you treat controversy? Nothing’s more supreme than an ex-Supreme. Retired top-court justices have recently served (and been hired by) public and private interests, providing reports, advice or a patina of credibility. Last year, Michel Bastarache delivered an assessment of the RCMP’s toxic culture, and counselled Rideau Hall amid viceregal turmoil. Thomas Cromwell advised MP Jody Wilson-Raybould during 2019’s SNC-Lavalin affair, which drew in three other former justices. As scandal engulfed the WE Charity, it pointed to the late Peter Cory’s three-paragraph letter on its governance from 2010. Most U.S. Supreme Court justices die before they retire. Canadian justices leave the bench at 75 and then enjoy active careers. In 2021, we can anticipate Morris Fish’s review of the military justice system and a more potent page-turner by former chief justice Beverley McLachlin: the thriller follow-up to her first bestselling novel.
Attacking racist systems, starting at the top
The adage “If you can see it, you can be it” is supposed to explain why underrepresented groups need to see faces like theirs in positions of influence so they know that they belong there, too. But, as Wes Hall explains it, broadening who sits at the top is just as much about retraining the rest of society to confront deeply ingrained anti-Black systemic racism.
“When I walk into a boardroom and I’m treated like I’m a mail boy, or another low-level employee, the people in that room are not used to seeing people like me in that context,” says the executive chairman and founder of Toronto-based Kingsdale Advisors. “So when they’re seeing more people like me in certain contexts, then it becomes acceptable.”
A thorn in Beijing’s side
When Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were detained by Chinese authorities nine days after the RCMP arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, they vanished into a justice system controlled by an authoritarian regime that flouts the rule of law even as it claims the opposite. As Canadians demanded justice, tough-on-China experts who knew the lay of the land were thrust into the spotlight. David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, took a rock-ribbed stand against a suggested Meng-for-Michaels prisoner exchange—and gained a devoted following for doing so. Mulroney carried the credibility of an insider and the candour of an outsider. Journalists called constantly. Parliamentarians quoted him. The Canada-China fight might be resolved only when powerful interests in Washington and Beijing strike a deal. But Mulroney’s insistence that Canada never surrender strengthened public demand for values-based foreign policy and will empower ardent China skeptics for years to come.
Opportunity is knocking
The keys to 24 Sussex—er, Rideau Cottage—could be O’Toole’s this year with the right combination of Liberal bungling and Conservative coalition-building. The Ontario-based Tory leader is courting both Canada-first nationalists and the unionized lunch-bucket crowd, among whom there is some overlap. Still to come: a credible policy on climate change. If he can do all that and keep his party base intact (disdain for Trudeau remains a great unifying force), then more power to him. Much more.
Retooling on the fly
COVID-19 has battered Canada’s manufacturing sector, but it hasn’t knocked Linda Hasenfratz down. The chief executive of the Guelph, Ont.-based automotive parts manufacturer Linamar got funding from the provincial government in September to roll ventilator parts off its assembly lines, working with medical technology manufacturer Thornhill Medical to help it increase its ventilator production. Hasenfratz is known for being a big-picture thinker: she has a 100-year plan for her business and was diversifying the global company into medical device manufacturing long before the pandemic hit. In the midst of a horrific economic downturn, Linamar still doubled its third-quarter dividend to 12 cents per share and has hired back 94 per cent of its workforce. In early December, the province named her one of nine members of a panel that will oversee distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. If Hasenfratz can put her skills in logistics, supply chain management and planning to the task of getting the vaccine in Canadians’ arms, we may all share the benefits.
Chief Woos/Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and matriarchs
It was all anyone could talk about, at the time. In early 2020, the RCMP arrested Indigenous protesters for disrupting construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern British Columbia. In solidarity, people across the country demonstrated on city streets and built rail blockades, calling international attention to their cause.
Under the glare of that spotlight, the traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, led by Chief Woos, saw an opportunity. With pressure mounting on governments to resolve the impasse, the chiefs, with whom protesters had been aligned, came to an agreement with the B.C. and federal governments that would pave the way for title negotiations. A chance at genuine self-governance. A legal stake in the land.
The agreement didn’t mention the pipeline, and some chiefs elected under the band council system have called the process into question. Still, this will prove an important litmus test. With Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in a position to rewrite what a modern nation-to-nation relationship means, the spotlight is still theirs.
Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, Gid7ahl-Gudsllaay Lalaxaaygans
Her nation’s advocate
When two Haida men crossed from Alaska to B.C. by boat—without checking in with the Canada Border Services Agency—to attend the 2018 All Native Basketball Tournament, the duo faced a deportation order that could have barred them from Canada for life. Enter Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson (whose Haida name is Gid7ahl-Gudsllaay Lalaxaaygans), general counsel for the Haida Nation and principal lawyer at Surrey, B.C.-based White Raven Law. She argued the duo should be able to travel freely within Haida territory. The men were soon out of jail, agreeing to exclusion orders that meant they couldn’t return to Canada for one year.
Williams-Davidson, meanwhile, had raised a new and potentially important legal issue—something she does often. Born and raised in Haida Gwaii, she represented her nation before the Supreme Court of Canada arguing for protection of old-growth forest; the result was the 2004 landmark ruling that established the Government of Canada’s duty to consult Indigenous peoples over actions that could affect their Indigenous rights. More recently, Williams-Davidson is seeking a declaration of Indigenous title to Haida Gwaii, including—in what could be a first in Canada—the ocean waters surrounding it.
Michelle Rempel Garner
Putting her boots to the Liberals
The honourable member for Calgary-Nose Hill is the official Opposition’s resident pot-stirrer. By turns cheerfully acerbic, theatrically indignant and perfectly cutting, she holds forth on Twitter and holds the government’s feet to the flame with tactics ranging from surgical to troll-adjacent. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole named Michelle Rempel Garner his health critic in September, making her the chief cross-examiner of the government’s efforts on COVID-19 in the House of Commons, a role that is unlikely to diminish in prominence any time soon.
Getting back on track
In the early days of Canada’s first wave of COVID-19, Michael Sabia wrote a newspaper op-ed predicting the pandemic would test the government’s ability to restart the economy once the crisis starts to fade. His judgment—and his talents—are about to be put to the test: the day after Health Canada approved its first COVID-19 vaccine, Sabia was introduced as the country’s new deputy finance minister. Most recently chair of the board for the Canada Infrastructure Bank, launched in 2017 by the Liberal government as an arm’s-length Crown corporation to dispatch federal funds for infrastructure projects, Sabia previously spent decades at or near the helms of corporate and financial institutions, repositioning the likes of CN Rail, Bell Canada and Caisse de dépôt for the future. What new ideas he brings to the table is an open question: he’s reportedly been advising the government for years. But if Trudeau leaves a lasting legacy of post-COVID reconstruction, it will bear Sabia’s imprint.
James and Louise Temerty
The first name in medical philanthropy
Hospitals and universities across Toronto bear the names of former Northland Power chief executive James Temerty and his wife, Louise. There’s the Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the Louise Temerty Breast Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. And thanks to a $250-million donation announced in late September, the University of Toronto’s medicine department is now the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. The couple, who got started in business by expanding ComputerLand retail stores into a Canada-wide chain, are putting their wealth to work mainly in the country’s health-care sector. The University of Toronto gift will fund research into machine learning in medicine, support Indigenous education and pay for a new home for the faculty, to be called—you guessed it—the James and Louise Temerty Building. The gift was the largest in Canadian history, but in a release announcing it, James Temerty described it as simply “doing our part.”
Still a Tory touchstone
Alberta’s clout in Confederation has declined in step with oil prices, and its premier’s laissez-faire approach to pandemic management has dented his popularity. But Jason Kenney remains a lion of Canadian conservatism’s many movements—fiscal, social and pro-fossil fuel—who is determined to use the remaining two years of his mandate to strengthen the Alberta of his mind’s eye. Kenney’s influence on like-minded leaders in the rest of Canada should not be underestimated: he was an early and prominent endorser of Erin O’Toole’s leadership, and will no doubt wade into a federal election in hope of toppling Trudeau. Meanwhile, Canada’s path to its climate-change goals runs through Kenney, because it requires action in his province. He can either coax resource companies along as they seek to modernize in a changing world, or, with his posturing against Ottawa, become a boulder in the river: securely in place, and impeding the current.
A forceful voice demanding action
Epidemiologists have laid out the coronavirus stakes with stark facts and clear warnings. David Fisman does it with a Simpsons GIF, or an image of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. The Harvard-educated professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health is the most colourful and forceful voice demanding swift action to slow the virus’s spread, while fearlessly confronting decision-makers. He’s called for the resignation of Ontario’s equivocating chief health officer, David Williams. When François Legault suggested his province looked relatively good based on a Fisman tweet about an Ontario excess-mortality study, the doctor urged the Quebec premier—en français—not to compare apples to oranges. With fellow Dalla Lana epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite, Fisman developed early simulations predicting how quickly COVID could spread, and he accurately called the timing and severity of the second wave.
The Indigenous children’s champion
Blackstock, a member of the Gitksan First Nation and doctor of social work, has championed the rights of Indigenous kids for decades. She serves as executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, whose litigation against Canada has secured hundreds of thousands of services for First Nations youth. Its landmark victory at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2016 ordered the federal government to immediately end discriminatory practices, recognize some 165,000 First Nation children’s right to access federal support on par with their non-Indigenous peers and compensate children shortchanged by a two-tier system.Read the full profile by Marie-Danielle Smith.
Calling out the game
Akim Aliu’s hockey legacy will be much greater than his seven career games in the NHL. First, his tweet about a Calgary Flames head coach using the N-word multiple times to describe Aliu’s dressing-room music gave a glimpse of the blatant racism that has festered in hockey. Then, his essay for the Players’ Tribune titled “Hockey is not for everyone” revealed how the problem wasn’t one bad coach, but rather a system that affords racists—fans, players, coaches—a place in the sport he loves. In the wake of the death of George Floyd and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Aliu joined other current and former professional hockey players of colour to found the Hockey Diversity Alliance. But the organization soon cut ties with the NHL, citing the league’s lack of measurable commitments to eradicate systemic racism in the sport. The NHL insists it is committed to diversity in hockey. Aliu has the platform—and the resolve—to hold it accountable.
Embracing who he is
When Elliot Page came out as trans in an Instagram post, his community rejoiced. Trans people typically make the news because they’re being discriminated against or killed, and while the Oscar-nominated star of Juno and the Netflix series The Umbrella Academy nodded to that grim reality in his coming-out post, it was mostly filled with light. “I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer. And the more I hold myself close and fully embrace who I am, the more I dream, the more my heart grows and the more I thrive,” the Nova Scotian actor wrote. Trans people have gained visibility in recent years, but gains have been met with backlash, and the community has long bemoaned the fact that Caitlyn Jenner, a lifelong Republican, was its highest-profile representative. Having someone like Page to look up to—happy, outspoken, successful—is a gift to trans and cis people alike.
Dedicated, devoted, determined
For the first year and a half that Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were imprisoned in China in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou, the people who loved them remained completely—strategically—quiet and hidden from view. Since she broke her silence in June, Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla, has become the chief spokesperson for the families. But behind the scenes, she had been Kovrig’s most dedicated advocate all along. The couple is separated, but Kovrig is, as Nadjibulla says, “my person,” and so she has leveraged the broad contacts and strategic thinking cultivated during her career in international relations to work to try to secure his release. The case of Canada’s two Michaels does not appear to have any easy or elegant solution at the ready, but Nadjibulla is unwavering and formidable in what has become her full-time fight.
She is the first Black Canadian and the first Jewish woman elected permanent leader of a federal party. She is a daughter of immigrants, a long-time Torontonian with a Princeton education. She speaks four languages, including fluent French. Annamie Paul figures her identity and credentials will draw curious new eyeballs to the Green cause. At least, she hopes so. “I would say that electing me is an immediate conversation starter.”
Paul’s politics are a continuation of Elizabeth May’s legacy rather than a departure from it. She has taken to her new job with gusto, flooding reporters’ inboxes after a narrower-than-expected by-election loss. But fewer than 24,000 people voted in a leadership election she won on the eighth ballot. With support for her party hovering around six per cent nationally, polling predicts an uphill battle once the decidedly muted honeymoon is over. Paul might just be up for that.
Opening doors, ad infinitum
What started as a fill-in internship assignment turned into a 20-year CBC career as movie and pop culture critic, and eventually stints as director of film programs at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and on many cultural boards. Of being an Indigenous trailblazer, Wente has said, “The only reason being first matters is so you can open doors wide enough for numbers two to infinity to come through.” Now that he’s chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, Wente will be doing a lot of that.
Investing in a better world
Palihapitiya, a billionaire venture capitalist born in Sri Lanka and raised in Ottawa, has a lot of negative feedback for capitalism in its current form. He’s called his venture capitalist peers “soulless milquetoast,” and told attendees at a San Francisco event that any founder whose start-up fails because of spending too much money on fancy offices and snacks is “a f--king moron.” They may not always like what he has to say, but when Palihapitiya talks, people listen—perhaps because he uses market forces to put his massive wealth to work for the betterment of society. And he has nothing but praise for Canada, particularly when it comes to its social safety net and his alma mater, the University of Waterloo.Read Claire Brownell’s profile about Palihapitiya, his fund Social Capital, and why he ranks on our Power List.
Calling Canada to action
The Senate is losing Canada’s foremost expert on Indigenous law, but he is far from retiring. Manitoba’s first-ever Indigenous judge, Murray Sinclair sat on the bench for 28 years before serving as chief commissioner to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The commission’s study of the residential schools system and its wide-ranging calls to action, released in 2015, have loomed large over Canadian politics ever since. “We have described for you a mountain,” Sinclair said in a speech, then. “We have shown you the way to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”
Sinclair was appointed to the Senate in 2016 but announced his departure in the fall to focus on mentoring a new generation of Indigenous lawyers in Manitoba, and to finish writing a memoir, Who We Are, slated for 2022. Expect an admonishment of Canadian mountain-climbing efforts therein, and wisdom for the journey up.
The Nova Scotia shooting inquiry panel: Leanne J. Fitch, Michael MacDonald and Kim Stanton
Searching for truth
Over two horrifying days last April, 22 people in Nova Scotia were killed in a shooting spree that left communities in ruins and troubling questions about how the RCMP responded. The families of the victims demanded answers while governments in Ottawa and Halifax dithered for months on calling a public inquiry to get to the bottom of the Mounties’ conduct in those fateful hours. Finally, in October, three appointed commissioners started their work.
The results of their inquiry could be monumental for a national police force struggling with its underfunded rural policing model, a change-resistant culture and ongoing charges of systemic racism. Michael MacDonald, Leanne J. Fitch and Kim Stanton will face intense pressure to tell uncomfortable truths for the families, and for a police force in need of reform.
His New Democratic Party holds the balance of power in a minority Parliament and is the most natural potential ally to the governing Liberals. That bargaining position has led to the achievements Jagmeet Singh’s party is proudest of in a strange and difficult year: an expanded Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), help for students and more paid sick leave. There is still a sense of potential not quite grabbed, though, in both Singh’s leadership and in what should be a receptive moment for Canadians to turn to his party.
Weather fair, hazards ahead
Here’s looking at the first two-term NDP premier in British Columbia’s history. John Horgan’s 2020 snap election paid off, giving his party the highest share of the popular vote in history. It turned out the province’s voters preferred to solidify a stable government during a pandemic roller coaster. Go figure. Horgan’s down-to-earth attitude, his deference (mostly) to beloved public health guru Bonnie Henry and his (so far) disaster-averse handling of B.C.’s stickiest wickets have rewarded him. In early December, his was the highest approval rating at the First Ministers table. Of course, after the victory high comes the hangover. With the free rein of majority government comes heightened accountability. When you’re as undeniably in charge as Horgan is now, it’s hard to blame problems on the other guys. Problems such as, say, the controversial, no-win-scenario Site C hydroelectric dam project. So, here’s looking at him.
The thinking person’s conservative
The Tories in Ottawa feast on scandal, always hunting for the next ethical lapse or spending spree that might knock the Liberals off their game. Sean Speer, a big-ideas machine and former economic adviser to Stephen Harper, takes a longer view. Speer publishes papers at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and serves as director at Ontario 360, a think tank based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. His arguments on economic growth and recovery are credible enough that Liberals have a hard time disagreeing with him. He wrote that no party is speaking to the “forgotten people” of Canada who struggle to shift to an “intangible economy” based on intellectual property and data. Those voters are up for grabs. Will the Conservatives listen to one of their keenest thinkers and build a tent for them?
Driven by curiosity
Before she won her Nobel Prize for physics in 2018, Donna Strickland did not have her own Wikipedia page. That now seems a criminal oversight. The University of Waterloo professor was only the third woman to become a Nobel laureate in her field—and the prestigious annual prize has been around since 1901.
She’s since become a role model to girls and women in science, though Strickland didn’t set out to highlight gender bias. At the helm of Waterloo’s Ultrafast Laser Group, where her team works on developing high-intensity laser systems, she’s instead advocated for science itself—including the need for more curiosity-driven research that will lead to the next generation of advancements. Her own Nobel, after all, was the result of curiosity-driven, collaborative research in the 1980s on a technique called “chirped pulse amplification,” which led to breakthroughs in fields such as medical imaging and corrective eye surgery.
Canada’s answer to AOC
U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is arguably the savviest left-wing politician on the world stage at the moment, so Leah Gazan being tipped by multiple lefty observers as Canada’s potential answer to AOC is high praise indeed. The rookie New Democrat MP defeated Liberal incumbent Robert-Falcon Ouellette in 2019 to represent Winnipeg Centre, and she describes herself as “a proud socialist” from an activist family. (She is a member of the Wood Mountain Lakota First Nation in Saskatchewan, though she’s spent most of her years in Winnipeg.) Before launching a political career, Gazan was a lecturer at the University of Winnipeg and a community organizer involved with Idle No More. She has introduced a motion in the House of Commons to convert the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) into a permanent guaranteed basic income, writing in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “If we are all in this together, then this government must commit to bold actions to ensure we can all survive the pandemic.”
The new newsmakers
The positive story readers are seeking
While traditional newspapers and private broadcasters continue their long spirals of ad-revenue decline and newsroom shrinkage, the good-news stories from the media world tend to be independent (and mostly online) outlets that have sprung up in the last few years. San Grewal saw a large news desert thirsting for dogged, impactful journalistic attention and started Brampton and Mississauga-focused digital news site The Pointer, after Patrick Brown's controversial run for mayor. The Calgary’s The Sprawl and the Halifax Examiner both started as one-person operations that have added stables of paid freelancers. When Maureen Googoo’s Atlantic Indigenous site Ku’ku’kwes News covered last fall’s Mi’kmaw fishing rights tensions, her crowdfunding skyrocketed and her website repeatedly crashed from heavy traffic. As the big guys get little, many of the little ones are getting bigger. Read more about why these indie newsmakers are on our Power List.Read more by Jason Markusoff about why these indie newsmakers are on our Power List.
He won’t back down
During the crowning moment of Masai Ujiri’s career as a basketball executive, as he tried to join his team on the court for its NBA victory celebration, an Oakland, Calif.-area sheriff’s deputy shoved the Toronto Raptors president twice, not bothering to look at Ujiri’s credentials. Ujiri didn’t blink. He shoved the police officer back, then headed for the floor. When the officer sued for alleged assault, Ujiri didn’t settle. He counter-sued—and the cop’s body camera footage, unearthed months later, provided more than enough evidence for the public to see yet another police officer using unjustified force against a Black man. (The case is still before the courts.) Ujiri is the first to note that his success affords him the privilege and financial resources to fight battles others can’t. The Nigerian-born Canadian is only the second Black executive to win an NBA title. He is personal friends with Barack Obama. The non-profit organization he co-founded in 2003, Giants of Africa, uses basketball as a social development tool for African youth. But his greatest challenge in 2021 may be figuring out how to retool an underperforming Raptors roster fans had expected to compete for another championship.
Philippe J. Fournier
The oracle of Canadian elections
You could laugh off astrophysics as an appropriate background for the study of election polling, but you would be wrong. Philippe J. Fournier’s election projection model has its roots in a big bang simulator. His analysis, under the banner of 338Canada, swaps opinion for scientific rigour: “All that matters is hypotheses, and whether you can check those hypotheses.” Since 2018, the Quebec teacher and astrophysicist (and Maclean’s contributing editor) has called seven elections correctly (six provincial, one federal), identifying seat-winners with 90 per cent accuracy. In a likely election year, his data will be all the more essential.
Stronger than WE imagined
You could argue—rather easily—that there was only one sane, trustworthy voice in the cacophonic shouting match that was the WE Charity scandal. It belonged to Michelle Douglas, the organization’s former board chair, who abruptly resigned after raising concerns (per her testimony) about the financial rationale for pandemic layoffs. There are better reasons to pay attention to Douglas than her injection of candour into a messy, complicated political brawl. Honourably discharged during the military’s “LGBT Purge” in 1989 for being a lesbian, Douglas’s legal fight led to a reversal of the military policy. Her interventions have since supported landmark cases for the community. She is a co-founder of the Rainbow Railroad and secured federal support for an upcoming LGBTQ2+ monument in Ottawa. Even if her name in 2020 is synonymous with lucid parliamentary Q&A, Douglas’s lifetime of advocacy has made an undeniable impact. What will she do next?
Scoring one for the public over private tech
Where Justin Trudeau saw a blueprint for “smarter, greener, more inclusive cities,” this open-government advocate saw the conversion of public land into a tech behemoth’s neighbourhood-sized data collection laboratory. Google sister company Sidewalk Labs abandoned its plan last May to create a sensor-strewn “smart city” on Toronto’s lakefront, citing the pandemic’s economic ravages. But it came after three years of steady warnings from activists about Sidewalk’s plans for surveillance and civic control that would create privacy and governance nightmares. Notable critics included BlackBerry founder Jim Balsillie, but the grassroots resistance was led largely by Bianca Wylie, who mixed her backgrounds in IT and civic engagement into advocacy. CityLab called her the “Jane Jacobs of smart cities.” The co-founder of Tech Reset Canada isn’t done: “Forget building back better; we need to build our technology differently,” she wrote in December, as a senior fellow for CIGI, the Balsillie-led think tank.
Reaching new heights
Teara Fraser is officially a real-world hero. In 2019, less than a decade after she earned her commercial pilot’s licence, she became the first Indigenous woman in Canada ever to run an airline when she launched Richmond, B.C.-based Iskwew Air (iskwew means “woman,” in Cree). In December, DC Comics featured her story in a graphic novel, Wonderful Women of History. Fraser told one interviewer she hopes to “honour the women that I’m alongside by continuing to dismantle systems of oppression and to stand for truth, justice and equality.”
Challenging attitudes in medicine
The lead physician at the transgender care clinic Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines, Ont., is a world-renowned expert, giving talks and educating her peers on providing health care to trans patients. Carys Massarella recently found a new avenue for that advocacy, appearing in two series on Amazon Prime’s OUTtv channel—one that follows her trans patients as she provides medical care during their transitions; another that examines how trans women are redefining beauty standards. Massarella seeks to end the discrimination her patients face in other medical settings. She co-authored a study that found more than one in five transgender Ontarians have avoided emergency-room visits because they think they’ll be treated poorly. Attitudes in medicine are changing, slowly, but access to gender-affirming health care remains spotty across the country. Massarella’s clinic serves as an important and too-rare supportive environment for trans people in Canada.
The unapologetic activist
Canada has a racism problem. And while it’s easy to look south of the border, comparing ourselves favourably to a country grappling with police brutality, white supremacy, systemic racism in schools and a disproportionately high number of African-Americans in prisons, Desmond Cole’s tireless work as a journalist and advocate provides an insistent reminder that Canada, too, must confront these injustices. His first book, The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, is a chronicle of 2017, in which he explores deep-rooted anti-Black racial injustices across the country that got too little attention on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. The book also provides insight into Cole’s personal experiences, including his decision to leave a high-profile columnist gig with the Toronto Star—a liberal bastion of the mainstream media—after his boss told Cole his activism ran counter to the paper’s rules on journalism. His propensity to take action shows no sign of waning: only two days after winning the 2020 Toronto Book Award for The Skin We’re In, police in Hamilton arrested Cole while he protested at city hall alongside Defund Hamilton Police demonstrators.
Bridging the cultural gap through design
Natural light and the malleability of wood inform Alfred Waugh’s architecture, as do structures like wigwams and Salish longhouses. So does the culture shock he experienced as an Indigenous student moving from Yellowknife to campuses in the South. Waugh’s curving, sunken-in-earth Indigenous House at the University of Toronto Scarborough will be his latest contribution to post-secondary institutions seeking to better serve Indigenous communities. It follows acclaimed projects at the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria. The president of B.C.-based Formline Architecture leads a new generation of First Nations and Métis designers, who burst onto the international stage at the 2018 Venice Biennale with an exhibit called “Unceded.” In November, Waugh was named lead designer for Saskatoon’s $134-million central library to, as he put it, “bridge the gap between Indigenous ways of knowing and western knowledge...where oral tradition can coexist with the written word.”
Breaker of stories—and governments
When he was prime minister, Brian Mulroney called the well-sourced and determined Robert Fife a “f--king kneecapper.” Last year, Mulroney granted multiple exclusive interviews to the Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau chief, a sign of how the most feared journalist on Parliament Hill is also among its most respected. Fife has covered politics in Ottawa since 1978, when the current PM was a grade-schooler in town. When Stephen Harper was in charge, Fife exposed the Senate expense scandal that ensnared Mike Duffy and cost Harper chief of staff Nigel Wright his job. With Justin Trudeau in power, Fife set much of the 2019 political agenda by helping break news about top aides pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould in the SNC-Lavalin affair. Lately, he’s shone a light in murky corners of Canada’s fraught relationship with China. It’s hard to think of anyone with more power to shape next year’s Power List than Fife.