Editor’s Note, December 2009

What, exactly, do we mean by power? That’s the question we start with when we put together our December issue each year. What makes Jimmy Pattison a figure of undisputed power in the city? He’s rich, of course, one of the wealthiest people in the country. He’s been around forever and knows everyone. He freely dispenses advice informed by his many decades of business experience. And he’s intensely focused on the bottom line, in a way that inspires admiration and fear in equal measure. He has the power of money, of connections, and of history.

Gregor Robertson, by contrast, only gained real power when he was elected mayor a year ago. He’s consolidated that power by surrounding himself with smart people and making tangible progress on issues (Olympic Village financing, homelessness, green city) that he’s made priorities. As he showed in his campaign, he’s able to unite people with a vision of what Vancouver could become. And he’s learning to use the apparatus of government to realize that vision.

What about someone like Michael Miller, the city’s new archbishop? Are you powerful if you live a simple life, not driven by materialism, and minister to people’s spiritual needs? Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama all attest to the power of faith and pacificism and self-abnegation. Power, it seems, can take forms that do not involve massive bank accounts or public office.

And so we’re back where we started. When we say someone’s powerful, are we talking only about net worth? Clearly not. Expertise in using political mechanisms to get things done? Perhaps. The use of fear to compel compliance? In some cases, certainly. A gift for motivating, leading, persuading others? That seems to be a common thread among those we’ve chosen for this year’s list (where we gave bonus points to those who helped make the upcoming Winter Games a reality).

In the end, we decided, we’re really considering a combination of all these things. Together, they produce what true influence entails and what we’re really celebrating in this issue: the power to effect change.