2024

The Power List: Politics

Meet the newsmakers and policy brokers leading the national conversation
Photo illustrations by Anna Minzhulina
POLITICS_collage

April 1, 2024

1. Chow

1. Olivia Chow | Mayor, Toronto

Unwilling to see her city decline, Olivia Chow pressured all levels of government to step up. She has the money to show for it.
Lately, a swirling mix of pressure points—unforeseen pandemic costs, historic immigration highs, scarce housing supply, an uptick in violent crime—has frayed tensions between Toronto and the feds. The city receives just nine cents of every federal tax dollar paid yet maintains 60 per cent of Canada’s core public infrastructure. In recent years, Toronto has also shouldered much of the burden of affordable housing, once a federal file. For Olivia Chow, the onetime NDP MP elected mayor of Toronto last July, the costs of that lopsided arrangement have more than manifested in the streets of Canada’s largest city.

2. Polievre

2. Pierre Poilievre | Leader, Conservative Party of Canada

He’s all but guaranteed to take over the PMO
There’s little doubt that Pierre Poilievre is going to be Canada’s next prime minister. The only question is when. Until an election is called, Poilievre is keeping his name in the news by roasting the sitting government as much as possible. He’s loudly opposed the Liberals’ unpopular carbon tax, promising to quash it in the House of Commons and commanding a swell of support from conservative premiers. He released a 15-minute video condemning Trudeau for sinking Canada into a “housing hell” and promised that, if elected, he’d withhold funding from cities who failed to increase housing by at least 15 per cent each year. And, in a move that will surely resonate with voters, he accused the Liberals of “breaking the promise of Canada”—the guarantee that each generation will be more prosperous than the last. His next task: winning over GTA voters, who will be key to victory.

3. Freeland

3. Chrystia Freeland | Deputy prime minister and minister of finance

For taking tech companies to task
Freeland, staring down the barrel of a $38-billion deficit, recently promised $500 million in spending cuts to federal departments. At the same time, she’s also figuring out ways to bring money in: one of her biggest policy objectives is the Digital Services Tax, which will levy a three per cent tax on companies with annual revenues of more than €750 billion and more than $20 million in digital-services revenue earned in Canada. The tax—largely aimed at big tech companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google—has put Freeland at odds with both the tech community and the Biden government. But the cash influx might be worth the strife: the tax, applied retroactively to 2022, will bring in $7.2 billion in revenue in its first five years.

4. Smith

4. Danielle Smith | Premier, Alberta

She’s fighting Ottawa every chance she gets
Smith has spent her first full year in office pushing a sovereignty agenda that makes Quebec look patriotic by comparison. She wants to secede from the Canada Pension Plan, claiming Alberta is entitled to more than $300 billion in assets (critics are dubious). She’s cracking down on where renewable energy projects can be built in Alberta, flying in the face of federal clean energy mandates. And, where other provinces have largely limited the debate around trans rights to the classroom, she’s introduced sweeping changes across the board which, if passed, would ban trans people from competing in women’s sports and prohibit puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgery for children under 17. Albertans aren’t complaining: her approval numbers have stayed stable since she was elected last May.

5. Byrne

5. Jenni Byrne | CEO, Jenni Byrne and Associates

She gave Poilievre a leadership-worthy makeover
Pierre Poilievre owes his huge approval numbers as much to Jenni Byrne’s shrewd strategizing as he does to Trudeau fatigue. The veteran campaign manager, who’s pulled the puppet strings for every big Conservative name for the past decade, has transformed Poilievre from a dorky, bespectacled backbencher into a charismatic leader in contacts who drills into voter discontent and offers tangible solutions to appease it. And while Byrne has helped Poilievre galvanize his conservative base, her real coup is bringing unlikely voters under the Tory umbrella: millennials sick of the untenable cost of living, immigrants and defectors from other parties. The Liberals certainly see Byrne as a threat: they’ve recently pilloried her for the fact that her firm has lobbied for Loblaw, a move the Poilievre camp called “laughable.”

6. Ford

6. Doug Ford | Premier, Ontario

For going hard on big highways
DoFo had a chaotic 2023, with a slew of controversy surrounding his decisions to open the GTA’s beloved Greenbelt to development and stick a Scandinavian-style spa on the grounds of Ontario Place. But a Ford has never let a scandal derail his plans. Where his brother Rob’s slogan was “subways, subways, subways,” Doug’s might just be “highways, highways, highways.” He recently introduced the Get It Done Act, designed to speed up new construction—by shortening the timeline for environmental assessments—and took over two major thoroughfares, the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, from the city of Toronto, in exchange for $1.2 billion in financial aid. He’s also working on building the cars to fill those roads, with new EV battery–manufacturing plants in Windsor and St. Thomas, both set to generate thousands of jobs.

7. Kinew

7. Wab Kinew | Premier, Manitoba

For tackling the doctor shortage head-on
Kinew, the son of an Anishinaabe chief and the first First Nations premier in Canada, is an outlier amid Canada’s wave of ultra-conservative provincial politicians. Late last year, he was elected with a majority government, and his approval rating continues to ascend, hitting a delirious high of 63 per cent in early 2024. Kinew performed as a rapper for the group Dead Indians, hosted a CBC radio show and served as vice-president of Indigenous relations at the University of Winnipeg before entering politics, where he sailed to victory on a platform of radical health-care reform. He’s promised to spend $500 million to re-open shuttered emergency rooms, enhance primary-care access and—the clincher—hire 400 doctors, 300 nurses and 200 paramedics over the next five years.

8. Hogue

8. Marie-Josée Hogue | Judge, Court of Appeal of Quebec

She’s getting to the bottom of foreign interference
Last year, multiple reports from CSIS were leaked to the media, indicating that the Chinese government had tampered with the last two federal elections. After much lollygagging (and a brief appointment of former governor general David Johnston as “special rapporteur” on the matter), the Trudeau government finally ordered an inquiry into the allegations last fall, with veteran Quebec judge Marie-Josée Hogue leading the investigation. While Johnston reported that nothing had affected the integrity of the elections, Hogue is starting her inquiry fresh—and adding Russia and India to the list of possible meddlers. She’ll have to work fast: public and closed-door hearings only began in January, and an initial report is due this month.

9. Woodhouse

9. Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak | National chief, Assembly of First Nations

For unifying 600 Indigenous communities
For the past few years, the Assembly of First Nations, which represents more than 600 communities across Canada, has been plagued by internal squabbling. That turmoil has (hopefully) ended with the election of Cindy Woodhouse Nepinak, a member of the Pinaymootang First Nation. Woodhouse Nepinak, a staunch Liberal and former Trudeau aide, has extensive bona fides in the realm of Indigenous politicking: a day school survivor, she was part of a delegation to the Vatican in 2022 to discuss the legacy of residential schools with Pope Francis and helped negotiate the record-breaking $23-billion child welfare settlement with the government. Next up: overseeing the distribution of that windfall to Indigenous survivors and restoring unity to the AFN.

10. Eby

10. David Eby | Premier, British Columbia

For making YIMBY dreams come true
Last fall, B.C.’s NDP government, under Premier David Eby, passed Canada’s most dramatic housing reform in decades: Bill 47, which overrode local zoning across the province, forcing municipalities to allow buildings of 20 storeys within 200 metres of rapid transit stations and eight storeys within 800 metres. In one swoop, the legislation enabled the dramatic urban transformations housing-supply advocates have sought for years. It will likely reshape neighbourhoods in Vancouver and other B.C. cities, as blocks of single-family houses give way to high-density urban landscapes. A report estimated the changes could produce nearly 300,000 additional homes province-wide in the next decade. The government has come under fire for rushing the measures through, but Eby is defiant, suggesting he isn’t done yet with big housing reforms.


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This story appears in the May issue of Maclean’s. You can buy the issue here or subscribe to the magazine here.