The 50 Most Powerful People in Vancouver Right Now
Our annual ranking of the city's most influential people in politics, tech, education, business and beyond.
November 20, 2017
Each year, with the help of our panel of industry insiders and experts, we pull together the definitive ranking of the most powerful movers and shakers in the city. Who made this year’s list of influencers? A surprising mix of politicians, activists, tech pros and philanthropists whose actions shape the city.
Horgan: ▲ (#16, 2016) // Weaver: ★ (New)
BC Premier; Leader, BC Green Party
The Unlikely Partnership It wasn’t supposed to end like this. May’s provincial election should have been a cakewalk for Christy Clark, with Canada’s top-performing economy at her back and an untested NDP leader as her opponent. And yet, when the final vote was tallied, Clark’s Liberals ended up with a bare minority—and Andrew Weaver’s Green Party, winning a historic three seats, holding the balance of power.
What would Weaver do? That was the question that hung over the province for three weeks after election day. On May 29, after the results were confirmed, Weaver and NDP leader John Horgan announced a power-sharing deal that brought an end to 16 years of Liberal Party rule.
Some observers wondered whether a deal was possible, given the animosity shown between Weaver and Horgan in the legislature and on the campaign trail. But according to Justine Hunter, the Victoria-based legislative reporter for the Globe and Mail, there was little doubt who Weaver would support.
“Both of these men have long-term goals that require that they get along—and so far, they are showing they are far more pragmatic than those public exchanges would suggest,” says Hunter, who has covered provincial politics for almost 30 years.
While it’s clear what Horgan gets out of the deal—the long-coveted premier’s seat—for Weaver, the arrangement represents a step in a longer-term game: bringing electoral reform to B.C. and, with it, a solidified position for his insurgent party. “The Greens want British Columbian voters to see that a minority government can work, and then they want to actually change the voting system,” says Hunter. “If that remains their central driving force, then I think this could easily last beyond the average shelf life of a minority government in Canada.”
★ (Previously #37, 2013)
Chief of Staff, NDP
Local Rep There was some high-fiving around Vancouver City Hall when the news came that Geoff Meggs—city councillor for almost a decade, one-time communications guy for former premier Glen Clark—was going to be chief of staff for new premier John Horgan. Meggs knows intimately the city files that require co-operation from the province: transit, housing, Uber, Airbnb. Meggs, who was on the NDP’s election platform committee with Carole James, helped draft a pro-cities platform, so he’ll know how to carry it out. He’s also seen as a straight shooter—even by the Liberals.
▲ (#6, 2016)
Skyline King Next year, one of the most remarkable additions to the Vancouver skyline since the Woodward’s W resurfaced atop that namesake development in 2010 will rise from the foot of Granville Street Bridge. It’s no surprise that the developer behind both is Westbank Corp.’s Ian Gillespie. Gillespie has built a reputation as a singular builder (and savvy political operator) in a city full of brash cookie-cutter developers—and the shimmering, twisting Vancouver House, by Danish starchitect Bjarke Ingels, promises to be the jewel in his crown. Next up for Gillespie: an ambitious plan to reimagine the Bathurst/Bloor intersection in Toronto, where iconic retailer Honest Ed’s ruled for almost 70 years.
▼ (#2, 2016)
Mayor, City of Vancouver
Civic Icon The election of NPA councillor Hector Bremnar in the recent by-election shows a city-wide slip in confidence for Robertson’s Vision Vancouver and a slip in his position on this list. But of all the crises Gregor Robertson has had to navigate in the nine years he’s been mayor, the opioid crisis has likely been the most urgent. In June, when the city projected 400 lives would be lost by the end of the year (it’s now over 1,000), Robertson called it a “bloodbath” and pleaded with Ottawa for a federal response. He’s had the prime minister’s respect and attention, but he gained significant new allies when British Columbians elected the NDP.
▼ (#4, 2016)
B.C. Attorney General
Letter of the Law As the NDP’s housing critic, David Eby was a force to be reckoned with. Thanks to his hounding, the Liberals implemented the foreign-buyer tax, and they practically surrendered the Point Grey riding to Eby during the May election. Now that he is B.C.’s attorney general, Eby’s potential for power is tremendous, but we may have to wait to judge his effectiveness. He took his time drafting legislation to ban corporate and union political donations, saying he wanted it to be “bulletproof.”
▲ (#7, 2016)
The Dynasty If you’re an attentive watcher of the Aquilini family’s conglomerate, with assets in real estate development, hospitality and entertainment, then you’ve likely picked up on a trend in their investing in the past few years. Unique among private-sector players, the Aquilinis have emerged as powerful backers of Aboriginal business ventures, from the proposed Eagle Spirit pipeline in B.C.’s northwest to the mega-redevelopment of the 38.8-acre Jericho Lands in Point Grey.
Executive Medical Director, BC Centre for Disease Control
Health Crusader It is the greatest tragedy to hit B.C. in years—claiming more than 1,000 lives in the first eight months of 2017—and for Mark Tyndall, executive director of the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) and deputy provincial health officer, the need to take bold action on the opioid crisis is now. In an August report, the BCCDC made 10 recommendations for tackling the fentanyl epidemic, including providing free access to pharmaceutical-grade opioids for addicts and, more controversially, decriminalizing illegal drug use and moving toward legalization and regulation.
▼ (#5, 2016)
Founder & Director, Rennie Group
The Collector Bob Rennie’s departure from his role as chief fundraiser for the BC Liberals four months before the election marked an end of an era: in the past four years, the party raised a $32-million chest under him. Out of politics, he’s poured his resources into less controversial endeavours: art and philanthropy, donating $12 million dollars’ worth of art in 2017 to the National Gallery of Canada. Rennie, however, hasn’t entirely strayed from the political spotlight. At the height of the debate of 105 Keefer Street, Rennie was a vocal supporter of the project, even lending his voice in favour of it before city council.
★ (Previously #15, 2015)
Chief Medical Health Officer & Vice President,
Public Health, Vancouver Coastal Health
New Radical In response to the opioid crisis, Vancouver’s chief medical officer has been in front of the media so regularly over the past year that even a casual radio listener would likely recognize her voice. Conventional approaches haven’t worked, prompting Patricia Daly to call for a radical shift in drug policy. She is advocating for the decriminalization of all illicit drugs and suggests money spent on drug enforcement be used to tackle the root causes of addiction: poverty, homelessness and childhood neglect.
Urban Real Estate Developers
Power Players With almost 200 acres of prime urban land ripe for development, the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations are major players in the city’s real estate game, steered by Chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish Nation and Chief Wayne Sparrow of the Musqueam Nation. Their combined holdings, valued at more than $1 billion, include the Jericho Lands, the Heather Street Lands and a large site on East Broadway, among others. The MST Development Corporation manages the land and last year hired David Negrin—a senior Aquilini executive—as CEO. MST’s power at this juncture is undeniable, but the scope of their development plans is still a big unknown.
▼ (#9, 2016)
Financier & Philanthropist
Multi-Platform Mogul Old habits die hard for Frank Giustra, the mining magnate-cum-film producer, who in October made his big-splash return to Hollywood. Giustra has serious Tinseltown chops as the founder of Lionsgate Entertainment, which released its biggest feature yet, Blade Runner 2049, this fall. Despite dabbling in film, Giustra remains a gold miner at heart. Earlier this year he aggressively doubled down on his resource career when his Leagold Mining Corporation bought the Los Filos mine in Mexico for $350 million.
▲ (#18, 2016)
Driving Force As soon as TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond opened the Evergreen Line last December, he was already looking ahead to Metro Vancouver’s next billion-dollar transit project. A few months later, the federal Liberals announced $2.2 billion in funding for regional transit and by May, Desmond was celebrating a five-percent increase in ridership. Not bad for his first full year on the job. Next up: the Millennium Line extension along Broadway, which Desmond hopes to see fully funded by the end of this year.
▲ (#14, 2016)
President & CEO, Concord Pacific Group
City Shaper Having built much of Vancouver’s skyline over the past three decades, Concord Pacific Group has turned some of its attention to projects in Calgary, Toronto and London, U.K. Yet as Hui’s company branches out into new markets, it’s also reinventing itself right here at home with an overhaul of its tower-and-podium model that’s synonymous with Vancouver—at least at its upcoming redevelopment at False Creek North. That yet-to-be-named project will be built in a “completely new style of architecture for the area,” according to Joe Hruda, an architect on the project, in comments to the Globe and Mail.
▼ (#11, 2016)
CEO, Jim Pattison Group
Living Legend At 89, Jim Pattison continues to be a corporate power broker in B.C., with assets in advertising, grocery stores, lumber and coal exports, but it’s his role as a deep-pocketed philanthropist that’s building on his reputation as a business titan. In May, Pattison donated $75 million to the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation, the largest amount ever in Canada by a private donor to a medical facility. With his big-ticket donations, from North Vancouver’s emergency centre to Surrey’s mega-hospital, Pattison is quickly converting his largesse into a legacy.
= (#15, 2016)
Content Creator It’s been two years since Entwistle retook the helm of Telus as its CEO, a position he departed for a brief 15 months, and today Telus dominates its eastern counterparts in customer satisfaction and profitability, recording 278 customer complaints in the second half of 2016 versus 535 for Rogers and 1,258 for Bell. The company has also started funding locally produced documentaries, web shows and scripted comedies. As part of its annual giving program (Telus and its employees donated $42 million in 2016), the company’s StoryHive initiative has doled out grants of up to $100,000 to fund original content creators.
Founding Member, Overdose Prevention Society
The Rebel When the manager of the DTES Market, Sarah Blyth, set up two tents on the Downtown Eastside, little did she realize how many thousands of people would come to depend on them. After the provincial government declared a state of emergency for the opioid crisis back in April, red tape and reluctant politicians were delaying any well-intended efforts from civil servants, and lives were lost every day. So, Blyth and several other DTES activists took matters into their own hands, opening a safe injection site in an alley off East Hastings Street, staffed by volunteers trained to act quickly in the event a narcotics user suffers from a fentanyl overdose—a system that impressed Vancouver Coastal Health so much, they are now rapidly trying to replicate Blyth’s infrastructure.
“She was clever about it,” says Donald MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. “She named it the ‘Overdose Prevention Society’—meaning it says nothing about illegal injection sites in the title. It meant the police could turn a blind eye to it.” And so the police did, along with local health authorities. That is, until Blyth’s method proved to be successful. “Just see the number of people that have been through that trailer of hers to see the impact she’s had,” says MacPherson. “Federal politicians, provincial politicians…they want to take her system and implement it in other cities throughout Canada, but they haven’t been able to do it as quickly as she’s done.”
= (#17, 2016)
City Manager, City of Vancouver
The Collaborator Johnston, who quietly wielded a lot of influence as deputy city manager for years, moved definitively up the power list when he was named city manager in 2016. He’s now put his stamp on city hall, calming the waters inside and out with his more collaborative style and his strategic move to hold meetings with former city planners who had become outspoken critics. It’s Johnston who drives the city’s efforts to be more green, including the controversial zero-emissions-by-2030 building plan, something that he gets kudos for internationally, if not locally.
★ (Previously #7, 2012)
B.C. Finance Minister
Budget Boss For Carole James, being appointed finance minister this past July was sweet vindication. The former leader of the BC NDP resigned that position in December of 2010 after a caucus revolt led by former MLA and current Vancouver East MP Jenny Kwan. One of her most vocal defenders at the time was John Horgan. Horgan, now premier, continues to show a huge amount of confidence in the 12-year Victoria veteran—naming James not just finance minister but also his deputy premier. For however long this minority government lasts, James will be key to implementing the NDP’s ambitious agenda—and avoiding the party’s spendthrift past.
▲ (#27, 2016)
President, BC Federation of Labour
People’s Champ The first woman to be appointed to her position at BCFED (following four years as its secretary treasurer), Lanzinger represents more than half a million unionized workers across the province. While she has yet to rectify some of the hot-button issues upon which she campaigned in 2014—she advocated for a $15 minimum wage; it was raised this September to $11.35—that may change now that the NDP, which has the abiding support of labour unions (a recent report says they put forward more than 30 percent of the party’s financial contributions), is establishing its power.
Papa Bear In a departure from his usual philanthropic efforts in the arts, Michael Audain veered into the woods last year and became a contender in the long-standing fight to end grizzly hunting in B.C. He threw $500,000 into the ring and started the Grizzly Bear Foundation, with the goal of protecting the iconic West Coast beasts. In August, Audain got some satisfaction when the NDP government announced it was axing the trophy hunt. But the 80-year-old won’t raise a celebratory glass until he’s convinced all loopholes are sealed tight.
▲ (#23, 2016)
The Protégé Gregor Robertson, Vancouver’s longest-serving mayor, is set to seek an unprecedented fourth term in 2018. Andrea Reimer—a former Green Party school trustee and, since 2008, Vision Vancouver councillor, has been Robertson’s closest ally on council and was widely seen as his heir apparent, spearheading many of Vision’s marquee initiatives, including the Greenest City Action Plan and a comprehensive new Downtown Eastside neighbourhood plan. With Robertson going nowhere fast, Reimer decided in October not to run for re-election—though it’s hard to imagine the energetic policy wonk exiting the civic stage completely.
▲ (#28, 2016)
President & CEO, Vancity
Money Matters Canada’s largest community credit union has become unprecedentedly robust under Vrooman’s direction. Its assets increased by 6.6 percent in 2016 to $21.1 billion, and it topped last year’s list of Canada’s Best 50 Corporate Citizens. The latter designation is emblematic of Vancity’s growing attractiveness to values-conscious millennials, whose social and financial concerns (not least of which is surviving in an evermore unaffordable region) were the subject of a recent viral advertising campaign.
▲ (#26, 2016)
Chairman & Founder, Fairchild Group
Dollar Tycoon One of the hottest categories in retail right now is the “value-priced” model—the dollar-store—with a flurry of competitors entering the Canadian market in recent years. Thomas Fung houses one of them, Daiso, at his Aberdeen Centre mall and holds North American franchise rights for the Japanese chain. Daiso is just one piece in a diverse—and increasingly recession-proof—portfolio for Fung’s Fairchild Group, which includes everything from Chinese-language TV and radio stations to real estate holdings to an import/distribution arm.
★ (Previously #25, 2013)
Outgoing President & Vice Chancellor,
Emily Carr University of Art and Design
Art Evolution The widely admired overlord of ECUAD will retire from his role in July 2018 after a 22-year tenure, having shepherded the institution through perhaps the most dramatic evolution in its almost century-long history. When Ron Burnett arrived in 1996 at the then-Emily Carr Institute, it had only been offering bachelor’s degrees for a year. Since then, the British-born Burnett—whose myriad honours include Orders of both Canada and France—has been instrumental in ECUAD achieving university designation, becoming a Canadian trailblazer in digital-art disciplines and sustainable design, and relocating this past September from its long-time Granville Island home to a new awe-inspiring $122.6-million campus in East Vancouver.
“His tenure is most notable for his ability to adapt to and change with the needs and opportunities in visual-arts training—a rare gift in any leader,” says Howard Jang, faculty member of Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts, who will soon take the helm at the Banff Centre for the Arts. “The very lucky person to follow him at ECUAD will inherit a higher-education institution that’s relevant and poised for immense growth and impact.”
▼ (#8, 2016)
Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada
Law and Order When Justin Trudeau announced his inaugural cabinet, he handed Jody Wilson-Raybould—a former Crown prosecutor and regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations—the fraught justice ministry. In the past year, the rookie Vancouver–Granville MP has had to stickhandle two of the Liberal government’s most challenging campaign promises: setting up a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and drawing up legislation for the legalization of marijuana. The MMIW inquiry is mandated to produce a final report by the end of 2018. The new pot law, meanwhile, is set to come into effect next July—though officials across Canada have expressed concern about the feds’ hands-off approach.
Interim Leader, BC Liberal Party
Pinch Hitter As deputy premier prior to the election, Rich Coleman was in charge of some of the B.C. government’s most important files, from natural gas to housing. With his party dethroned, Coleman has found himself seated mere metres away from his former seat in the B.C. legislature. But in politics, distance matters. As the official leader of the Opposition and interim leader of the BC Liberals, Coleman is tasked with keeping his party together through a hotly contested leadership race, which will be decided in February.
President & COO, Jim Pattison Group
The Influencer The former premier has frequently acted as a liaison between the business community (particularly his boss, Jimmy Pattison, for whom he’s second in command) and the NDP. That role will be outsized now, as the NDP work to show they’re not anti-capitalist bogeymen. Clark’s influence is already evident: he sits on the board of forest giant Canfor, and no doubt nudged the party to adopt a modern take on forest products. To wit, the NDP is touting the economic value of engineered wood, mentioned in the throne speech.
Legal Counsel, NDP
Legal Eagle This 84-year-old legal legend was cherry-picked by the provincial NDP in August to advise them as they battle against the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. It’s a mammoth task, considering the twinning project has already received conditional approval from the National Energy Board and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. But Berger has an impressive track record when it comes to fighting big oil: as part of the Supreme Court, the man played a huge role in the ultimate quashing of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline during the 1970s.
Tech Captain You want to talk power? How about a company that has six million daily users? Slack, a workplace communication app, has become one of the fastest-growing start-ups in the world, and it was founded right here in Vancouver. Born and raised in B.C., Stewart Butterfield now represents the Van tech scene all over the world, firstly as a result of the success of one of his earlier ventures, Flickr, and now Slack. Butterfield used this year’s Frontiers conference—a two-day event put on by Slack with guest speakers like Andre Iguodala from the Golden State Warriors—to announce Slack’s new venture, Shared Channels, which is poised to replace emails. Though the company’s headquarters now lie in San Francisco, their recently expanded Yaletown space provides a base for most of their product innovation. As a public supporter of guaranteed annual income, and with his “anti-email” attitudes, Butterfield might just be reimagining work as we know it.
= (#30, 2016)
President & CEO, Port of Vancouver
Prince of Ports The prosperity of our region is inextricably tied to the prosperity of the Port of Vancouver—the third-largest port in North America. In his eighth year at the helm, Silvester can boast of record-breaking cargo passing through it (69 million metric tonnes as of mid-year); at the same time, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority received its first award from the North American Marine Environment Protection Association. Still to be dealt with: securing more of the Lower Mainland’s rapidly vanishing industrial land, which is crucial for ensuring the region’s ongoing economic viability.
▼ (#19, 2016)
Managing Director, Kensington Capital Partners
Digital Developer Gerri Sinclair is one of the undisputed pioneers of Vancouver’s tech scene. The PhD in renaissance drama founded the digital content management firm NCompass Labs (sold to Microsoft in 2001), served as the first president of the B.C. government’s Premier’s Technology Council, founded the ExCITE lab at SFU (the first digital media technology R&D centre in Canada) and launched the acclaimed Centre for Digital Media on Great Northern Way. Today she serves as managing partner of Kensington Capital, where she’s charged with directing the province’s $100-million BC Tech Fund and providing venture capital to the local tech stars of tomorrow.
The Protector Oftentimes, the next generation of rich and powerful represents something of a diminished return. Not so in the case of the Lee family. The offspring of renowned Vancouver developer and philanthropist Robert Lee have become forces in their own right—perhaps none more so than daughter Carol.
The eldest of four, Lee is president and CEO of Linacare Cosmetherapy Inc., a company she co-founded in 2003 and headquartered in the historic Lee family building on East Pender, where her grandfather once ran a dry goods store. It is in this neighbourhood that Lee has had her most significant impact—chairing the City of Vancouver’s Chinatown Revitalization Committee as well as the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, an organization she co-founded in 2012 to help buy and restore the area’s most historic buildings.
Andy Yan, an urban planner and director of SFU’s City Program, says that Lee has been an integral force in saving one of Vancouver’s most culturally significant neighbourhoods, which has been under recent threat from redevelopment. “Through her generosity, as well as social capital, she’s been able to start this process,” says Yan.
Lee has also recently extended her political influence to Ottawa: she now sits on federal finance minister Bill Morneau’s Advisory Council for Economic Growth and serves on the Governor General’s Rideau Hall Foundation board.
Corporate Management Team, City of Vancouver
Triple Threat This trio, hired within months of each other this year, represent the new face of city hall, aimed at bringing a new mood and direction after the departure of former city manager Penny Ballem. They’ve improved staff morale, especially Kelley, with his thoughtful, inclusive style. They’ve been charging hard on revising city housing policy and trying to improve the permitting process to allow that housing to be built faster. The jury’s still waiting for definitive signs of progress from the team.
★ (Previously #22, 2013)
President of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Stoic and Steadfast Stewart Phillip is a man of unwavering principles. He’s been arrested at a pipeline protest. He publicly stated he would not attend a ceremony with Prince William when a ring of reconciliation was added to the Black Rod. And, most recently, he voiced disapproval of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environmental track record. He’s also teamed up with the UN in the fight against the Site C dam and insists the “toxic, high-risk Trans Mountain dirty-oil pipeline project will never see the light of day.”
= (#35, 2016)
CEO, Creative BC
Creative Counsel Fiscal 2016–2017 represented a high-water mark for B.C.’s film and TV industry, with an estimated $2.6 billion spent on productions last year—up more than 35 percent over 2015–2016. Thank the Canadian dollar, yes, but also the rise of streaming services, such as Netflix, which find B.C. an attractive (and affordable) place to shoot. Prem Gill, CEO of Creative BC, is the one dishing out the all-important tax credits and pitching the province’s cultural sector—film and TV, digital media, music and publishing—to investors around the world.
▼ (#34, 2016)
Federal Minister of National Defence
Under Fire It’s been a stormy 2017 for Canada’s defence minister. In April, Harjit Sajjan—a former Canadian Forces regimental commander—was forced to apologize for misstating his involvement in a key military action in Afghanistan in 2006. He also got dragged into the bitter Bombardier-Boeing dispute, threatening this fall to cancel the Liberals’ planned order of 18 Super Hornets from Boeing—all the while having to guess what our neighbour next door might do next under its erratic commander-in-chief.
CEO, Atira Women’s Resource Society
Changemaker The past year’s fentanyl crisis kicked Janice Abbott’s already remarkable efficiency and effectiveness up another notch. The CEO of Atira Women’s Resource Society has a reputation for being able to get any project through city council. This year, she opened a women-only overdose prevention site called Sisterspace that has beds dedicated to women waiting to get into drug treatment and those just coming out. She also oversaw the opening of projects in Richmond and Surrey, opened a temporary Vancouver winter shelter for women and two new SROs, spearheaded a national symposium on women’s housing and was one of two people named to the Vancouver City Planning Commission.
President, BC Teachers’ Federation
The Educator Glen Hansman, elected last year to lead the BC Teachers’ Federation, made his name helping to get an anti-homophobia policy adopted by the Vancouver School Board in 2004—a groundbreaking move that has since been copied by boards across Canada. Today, the former special-education teacher and president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association faces his biggest challenge yet: filling 3,000 teaching positions and returning B.C. class sizes to 2002 levels, as ordered last year by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Guardianship Social Worker & Child Care Advocate
Mom on a Mission In Premier John Horgan’s office, on a shelf behind the desk, there is a photo of Baby Mac, the 16-month-old boy who died in January at an unlicensed daycare in Vancouver. The photo stands not only as a reminder of the NDP’s promise to create an affordable licensed child care system for all but also as a testament to the strength and determination of Mac’s mother, Shelley Sheppard. One week after her son died, Sheppard harnessed her grief and called for “massive reform” of the province’s daycare system. She and her partner, Chris Saini, wrote an open letter in which they said they didn’t want their “sweet boy’s death to have been in vain.” Judging by the government reaction, it wasn’t.
In March, Ottawa announced it would give B.C. $90 million a year to help to address the child care crisis. By April, affordable licensed child care had become a key issue in the lead-up to the provincial election. The $10-a-day child care campaign was gaining significant traction and the NDP promised to make it a reality—albeit gradually, over 10 years—if elected.
“Her willingness to advocate for change is inspirational and I know has made a difference,” Sharon Gregson, spokeswoman for the $10-a-day campaign, said of Sheppard. “Her staunch support for building a better system so that her tragedy does not happen for other mothers is heroic.”
Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of BC
Community Builder Armstrong has been called an “entrepreneurial developer,” even though he works as the executive director of the Co-operative Housing Federation of BC. That’s because he has taken the concept of community land trusts—land owned by cities but dedicated to affordable housing in perpetuity—and run with it. He’s worked with multiple municipalities, including Vancouver, to develop low-cost housing, using the expertise and equity of a large organization.
The Storyteller In Vancouver, where unrelenting cutbacks have decimated local newsrooms, beat reporters are mostly an extinct species. One of few survivors is Frances Bula: the reigning queen of city hall. What makes Bula’s status most remarkable is that it has been achieved without the anchor of a staff position. Since leaving the Vancouver Sun a decade ago, the reporter has delivered award-winning coverage of urban issues to a variety of publications, including the Globe and Mail and this magazine. She continues to inspire a future generation of civic reporters as an instructor at both Langara College and UBC, and remains the go-to journalist for those with an urban tale to tell.
Co-Founder & CEO, Bench
Start-Up Savant “I liked Elon Musk before he was cool,” reads Ian Crosby’s Twitter biography. Though space exploration might sound more exciting than accounting, Crosby has high hopes to make his cloud-based bookkeeping software just as sexy. The UBC grad is well on the way to achieving his goal with his start-up, Bench, whose relaxed tech-company flair and killer branding secured him a place on Forbes’s Top 30 Under 30 list in 2016. Mayor Gregor Robertson stopped by Bench for advice on how to support small businesses, and with over $30 million of venture capital to play with, Crosby’s sights are set on continued growth—the company recently acquired a new 55,000-square-foot office space occupying three floors in Telus Garden.
▲ (#46, 2016)
Co-Founders, Daily Hive
Newsmakers A quick rebrand from its Vancity Buzz moniker and a slight skew toward a more serious tone has resulted in the Daily Hive—and owners Manny Bahia, Farhan Mohamed and Karm Sumal—assuming its position as the millennial mogul when it comes to what’s going on in Vancouver. When the Daily Hive home page pays attention to a drink, a dish or even a politician, millennials follow suit. With almost one million followers across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, the masthead for this buzzworthy online source is longer than many print publications in 2017.
★ (Previously # 29, 2014)
Higher Education A true Renaissance woman, Anne Giardini—bestselling author, former Weyerhaeuser president, current chair of the Vancouver Board of Trade—has no shortage of accomplishments to her name. But arguably her biggest achievement in recent years has been overseeing smooth sailing at SFU as chancellor—this at a time of extreme turbulence at rival UBC. In January 2017, the trained lawyer joined her mother—the late author Carol Shields—in being named an officer of the Order of Canada.
B.C. Minister of Environment & Climate Change Strategy
Captain Planet Appointed to his position in August of this year, the NDP MLA for Vancouver–Fairview has been warmly welcomed by conservationists who expect him to be much more effective than his predecessor, the Liberals’ Mary Polak. Unlike her, Heyman brings to the job years of direct engagement with environmental issues—which is good, because after this past summer’s woodland devastation, his assimilation is a literal trial by fire.
Up in Smoke A pro-legalization advocate for years, Dana Larsen has become the media’s go-to spokesperson for the cause, a role he particularly relished this year after brazenly taking on the Vancouver Park Board when he decided to go against their will and hold his annual 420 celebrations at Sunset Beach. Larsen’s war with the Park Board—whom he alleges to be dominated by the “cannabis-hating NPA”—is ongoing, though, in Larsen’s own words, his “campaign of disobedience has paid off tremendously.” With the federal government aiming to have fully legalized weed by summer 2018, Larsen’s knowledge of setting up dispensaries might render him more of a start-up wizard than a civil dis-servant.
CEO, Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings
Taking Control Helin’s first book, Dances with Dependency: Out of Poverty Through Self-Reliance, made the case to end First Nations’ financial dependency on the Canadian government. Now his work with Eagle Spirit Energy Holdings is focused on aspirations of an Indigenous-owned pipeline that would run from the Alberta oil sands to the B.C. coast. Expect to see Helin, a lawyer at his own self-titled firm and a member of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, crop up more and more in the news this year as this controversial project aims to end what Helin calls “a cycle of dependency fostered by racist policies designed to subjugate Indigenous communities.”
Co-Founders, Vancouver Mural Fest
Wall Flowers No fun city, no more—so say the co-founders of the Vancouver Mural Festival (VMF), which launched in 2016. Bright colours and poignant slogans now line the walls of some of Vancouver’s most-trodden paths, engaging locals and tourists alike. Now, Vertesi and Hall acknowledge the event has grown beyond art, indirectly pleading locals’ case against redevelopment. Residents of the Mount Pleasant area live in hope that developers will think twice before knocking down buildings that have become icons of the city.
“After only two years, I think the VMF has not only beautified Mount Pleasant but highlighted the artistic talent that calls Mount Pleasant home,” says Neil Wyles, executive director of the Mount Pleasant BIA. “This in turn has brought to the forefront a discussion about keeping the area affordable for the very people that make it interesting.” This year’s festival saw more than 100,000 spectators wander the streets of Mount Pleasant and Strathcona, with more than 50 large-scale murals being added to the city’s culture scene.
With this year’s themes transforming and reclaiming laneways, destigmatizing graffiti art and supporting Indigenous placemaking, all eyes are on Vertesi and Hall and their plans to raise the bar even higher in 2018.
Suburban Champion Ivan Drury has done what not every social activist is willing to do—left Vancouver to protest housing and homelessness in the suburbs. Drury, a college history teacher who describes himself as a former anarchist and now a Marxist-Leninist, made headlines this year fighting the closure of a homeless camp in Maple Ridge and bringing attention to the destruction of hundreds of cheap apartments in Burnaby. Politicians dread him and his uncompromising approach, but he undoubtedly makes an impact.
Owner, Vancouver Whitecaps
Mr. Football Not many people know much about Greg Kerfoot, and he’d like to keep it that way—though it takes a pretty powerful person to turn soccer into a thing in North America. West Vancouver dwellers might know “Greg” as the guy from their beer-league hockey team, but they won’t likely know him as the millionaire who saved the Vancouver Whitecaps’ ego from extinction. Kerfoot took over the team in 2002, including their $100,000 worth of debt and their three full-time staff members. Now the team has an active fan base—due largely in part to tickets that are substantially more affordable than their Canuck neighbours—and MLS title aspirations that seem within reach.