Power 50: How It All Happens

Our process to determine VanMag's annual list of influencers.

November 24, 2017

By Anicka Quin

We know that when we’re putting together the Power 50 list each year, it’s going to set off a few firestorms from our readers, and I suppose we’d be a little disappointed if it didn’t. Who deserves to be on it? What does power truly mean—is it the people who can get anyone to answer their calls? Is it the person who makes change by creating a new system? Is it always the premier, the mayor? Is it the person who champions those people who don’t typically have a voice in our city—the poor, the addicted, the homeless?

The final result is somewhere in the middle. This year we felt that the partnership of former (public) enemies Andrew Weaver and John Horgan’s deal to run the province was an historic moment that deserved a rare tie. But there are also people like Sarah Blyth, who is neither wealthy nor a politician, but managed to create a seismic shift in how we helped people who needed it most in the DTES—and with her Overdose Prevention Society, created a model that’s being emulated across the country.

How we get to that list is a months-long process that starts back in the summer, when we gather a dozen people from a broad range of fields—health, education, journalism, politics, poverty activism, arts and culture, real estate, philanthropy, childcare activism and industry—into a room for the night to brainstorm the names of those people who have had an impact on the city in the last year. We talk about the issues that are important to the city—real estate and affordable housing, the changing work economy, the opioid crisis, pot legalization and the recent election were all brought forward that night.

Every year there’s a healthy debate around the table on what power means, and just how influential people are as their names come up. Our editorial team writes down notes as quickly as we can, and we come away with about 200 names. And that’s when the real work begins.

Our former senior editor Jessica Barrett—she left for Edmonton a couple of months ago, alas—spent time researching those names, talking to other journos and connected types (the tech field was one area we were shy on, and Jess interviewed influencers from that industry), to narrow those names down to a shortlist of 80. And from there, the rest of the team does even more digging—looking at the impact each of these people have had, whether it’s managing to make a non-issue into an election one (like Michael Audain and the grizzly bears), or bringing suburban issues into the forefront (like activist Ivan Drury). It’s always a tough decision to narrow it down to the final 50.

This year Frances Bula’s name was put forward by more than a few people. The influential journalist has written for VanMag in the past, but we didn’t want that to disqualify her—freelancers don’t make a living on a few assignments from one magazine, nor do they have any influence on this final list. We’d also assigned her a few of the other names on the Power 50 to write the profiles, because she’s an excellent researcher and reporter, but in hindsight, I see that the optics look as though she nominated herself, given that her byline was on the package as a whole. I assure you she did not have any role her in presence on that list.

As VanMag’s first female editor-in-chief—whose second in command is also a woman, as is our boss and her boss above her—I’m always conscious of paying attention to gender balance, and I’m sorry that we weren’t stronger in finding a better balance here (we had 17 out of the 50). It’s something that came up in 2015 as well, and at that time writer Jenni Baynham did some statistical research to discover how few of our top companies have women at the helm. Again, I don’t think that’s the only judge of power—that you’re running a company—but I’d like to see us continue to shift the rubric to highlight more women and the work they’re doing in future years.

The Power 50 gets people talking, that’s just what we want it to do. I’d love to hear from more of you, because that’s where the stories start—more great people for us to get into the magazine this year, to highlight the work they’re doing to shape our city. Keep the names coming.

 

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