Power 50 2016: VanMag’s Ranking of the Year’s Most Powerful People

In a city dominated by real estate, who really runs Vancouver?

Each year we debate the meaning of power in this city. How do activists measure up against real estate magnates? How does a restaurant designer (who’s putting Vancouver’s culinary set on the map) compare to B.C.’s commander- in-chief (whose real estate tax has the power to change a lot of our futures)? It’s David versus Goliath, money versus ideas, and real estate above all. Let the debating begin.

Her nominal workplace is Victoria and her riding is in the Okanagan, but there’s no questioning the impact Premier Christy Clark has had on Vancouver this year. She’s turned the Lower Mainland real estate market upside down (exact results far from clear) with her surprise decision in July to impose a hefty foreign-investors tax on residential property sales. Her decision a few weeks later to put $500 million into low-cost rental housing, half of which will likely go into the Lower Mainland, will have a significant impact. Her government’s many snap decisions on education funding have had local school districts on a roller coaster for months. She’s steaming ahead with a plan to build the enormous new Massey Bridge across the Fraser River, something that will alter the region’s travel patterns forever. She also managed to work out a deal with the new Trudeau government and regional mayors on a first phase of infrastructure funding that will get rapid-transit-line projects started in Surrey and Vancouver. In spite of the rise of anti-governing-party populism in other places, no one is willing to bet that Clark, a master campaigner, will be defeated next May. (Photo: Carlo Ricci.)

The affordability crisis had Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson in response mode much of the year. Between pleas to senior government for action, he moved to tax vacant homes and restrict Airbnb rentals, and he brought in a new city planner from San Francisco. Meanwhile, his budding bromance with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was easily chided, but it turned out to be worth more than a photo op. A federal contribution of $157 million was a breakthrough for Robertson’s efforts to bring a rapid-transit line to the Broadway corridor. Still, ongoing community opposition on issues like development, density and bike lanes meant the mayor kept his status as a decidedly divisive figure.

Cause and effect is often hard to prove in journalism, but in 2016—which started with big indifference from all levels of government but quickly pivoted toward big action on the question of housing affordability—one thing seems certain: Kathy Tomlinson has shifted the debate in B.C. The long-time CBC investigative journalist joined the B.C. bureau of the Globe and Mail in August 2015 and was put on the dedicated beat of unearthing secrets and irregularities in B.C.’s overheated real estate market. Her headline-grabbing scoops started with exposing the mysterious practice of shadow flipping (where properties flip multiple times before a deal closes) and continued with tales of shady realtor practices and foreign buyers engaging in legerdemain to avoid property transfer taxes. After years of saying “nothing to see here, folks,” the province made a surprise move in late July to impose a provincial tax on foreign buyers and allow the City of Vancouver to institute a tax on empty condos (details of which were to be decided by city council in November). Then the federal government—largely absent from the debate—announced in October that it would close a loophole allowing foreigners to claim a capital-gains exemption on the sale of a principal home.The long-time cry from the Globe’s Toronto headquarters for any investigative work—the highest praise for any journalist—is “the Globe got action!” In 2016, it’s pretty clear that, thanks to Kathy Tomlinson, it did. (Photo: Carlo Ricci.)

When David Eby convened a room of 600 irate Vancouver residents at the Hellenic Community Centre in Quilchena for a town hall forum on Vancouver’s “out-of-control” real estate market, he arguably set the tone for the 2017 provincial election. As the rookie MLA for Vancouver–Point Grey, ground zero for the region’s affordability woes, he’s single-handedly upended one of the government’s most sensitive files, putting the BC Liberals on the defensive and precipitating policies like the foreign buyers’ tax. And his portfolio doesn’t end there. As the critic on housing, transit and even gambling and liquor, he’s emerged as the premier’s foremost foe. Unsurprisingly, she won’t be running against him in Point Grey again.

Vancouver’s scorching real estate market may have become a little too hot, even for Bob Rennie. In June, the outspoken condo marketer announced that 2016’s edition of the annual address to the Urban Development Institute, a platform that had made him the de facto spokesperson for the industry and his name a lightning rod among affordability activists, would be his last (the preparation had become too time-consuming, he said). His firm continues to handle marketing and sales for dozens of real estate developments across the Lower Mainland, but don’t be surprised if Rennie goes quiet until the market—and residents’ passions—cool down. Of course, his stature in the modern art world as one of the world’s pre-eminent and most respected collectors is undisputed (his museum in the Wing Sang building in Chinatown offers but a small glimpse into his outstanding collection). (Photo: Jeff Vinnick Images.)

Peering at Vancouver’s skyline from almost any vantage point, you’d have to have particularly poor eyesight to miss Ian Gillespie’s mark: the 62-storey Shangri-La, the cantilevered Telus Garden, the neon blue-streaked Shaw Tower and the 46-floor Fairmont Pacific Rim. For the past two years, since acquiring Creative Energy, he’s tried to replicate that dominance underground with low-carbon neighbourhood energy systems—to muted success. In September, the BC Utilities Commission rejected aspects of Gillespie’s proposal for the third time in nine months. His response? A “minor blip” wasn’t going to get in his way. (Photo: Jeff Vinnick.)

The Canucks’ troubles on the ice over the past couple of years are likely not a source of major concern for the scion of the Aquilini family. The managing director of Aquilini Group, a sprawling empire that—besides a hockey team—includes hotels, golf courses, real estate developments, blueberry and cranberry farms and a sablefish operation, Francesco has increased the family’s fortune to $3.3 billion, according to Canadian Business. And it’s growing. Next up: the $5.2-billion Garibaldi at Squamish ski resort, approved in January by the B.C. Ministry of Environment, which promises to dramatically change the Sea-to-Sky Corridor.

Jody Wilson-Raybould’s appointment as federal justice minister last fall wasn’t just a personal achievement for the former provincial Crown prosecutor and regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations. The appointment was a historic moment for Canada, making Wilson-Raybould the first Aboriginal person, and only the third woman, to hold the post. There were more historic moments to follow. Just weeks after her appointment, Wilson-Raybould announced the long-awaited national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and early next year she’ll start the process of legalizing marijuana.

Mining magnate Frank Giustra is going back to Hollywood. The founder of Lionsgate Entertainment (he sold most of his stake in 2003) made his fortune as a financier of mineral projects and has spent the past five years building up Thunderbird Films, a Vancouver-based TV and movie company. To date, the firm has produced a mix of B movies and buzzy TV series like The Man in the High Castle and Continuum—but no blockbusters. That could change in 2017 when the studio’s highly anticipated sequel to cult favourite Blade Runner, directed by Denis Villeneuve, hits theatres. He’s also spent the last two years building his charity, the Radcliffe Foundation (founded in 1997), into a front-line service provider in Greece and other countries, building a shelter for 800 refugees in Thessaloniki and sponsoring projects like a new film prize at the Vancouver International Film Festival for documentaries that draw attention to the plight of refugees.

The chief of Vancouver’s Musqueam Indian Band is one of a powerful trio of local First Nations leaders. Wayne Sparrow leads a band that sits on a pile of valuable assets: the University of B.C. golf course and its neighbouring real estate, a marina and a share of the Jericho and RCMP Lands in western and central Vancouver. Sparrow, the son-in-law of venerated former chief Ernie Campbell, has been an effective spokesman as the band’s development corporation has negotiated what is expected to be the first big First Nations development in Vancouver, Block F on former UBC land. And he’s had to fight some battles inside his own band, defending the decision to pay the federal government for land that was once the band’s. It’s a tough argument, but one he keeps positioning as the only way forward.

Head to the news section on the Jim Pattison Group’s website and you’ll quickly realize that the 88-year-old has his fingers in more pies now than most people will in a lifetime: “Pattison Onestop wins 13 prominent Great-West Life properties,” “Pattison-owned seafood firm commits to sustainability overhaul.” B.C.’s best-known entrepreneur (and richest person by about a billion dollars) isn’t just billboards and cars, and even in a quieter year like 2016, Pattison remains a fixture on this list.

Born in England, the home of the pioneering National Health Service, Vancouver’s Dr. Brian Day is shaking the foundation in Canada this year with a lawsuit that aims to fundamentally change the way this country’s medical system works. Since 1995, Day has operated the Cambie Surgery Centre, where he offers medical services for fees, outside the public system. His legal action, initiated in 2009, finally got to the courts this year, prompting advocates and critics to pile on with assessments of whether Day, an orthopedic surgeon, is a villain or hero. The BC Health Coalition says he will bring in a U.S.-style two-tier health system that could “erase Canadian medicare as we know it.” He is joined in his suit by a handful of patients who have said their health was harmed by having to wait for treatment in the Canadian system. Day sees himself as fighting for the civil liberties of Canadians so they can choose to get service from the public system or pay extra to get treatment from a private practitioner—a hybrid system that exists in countries like Australia. Photo: Carlo Ricci.

The workers’ camp has been completed, the trees have come down and a 60-metre-high mound of earth is slowly going up. From the standpoint of BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald, the $8.3-billion Site C dam is a fait accompli. For McDonald, it’s no small feat, considering it’s a project that she’s shepherded, in various roles, since her time as a top staffer in Premier Gordon Campbell’s office from 2004 to 2009. A challenge by two First Nations—set to lose their traditional lands and sites of cultural significance—could change that, but the prospect of this project grinding to a halt is dim.

Developer Terry Hui’s Concord Pacific Group has been a name recognized by Vancouverites for more than 20 years. After turning the Expo Lands into Concord Pacific Place, Hui continues to transform the city with the development of Northeast False Creek, following city council’s decision to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. Concord Pacific also made headlines this year for the $185-million purchase of the Molson Coors brewery property at the foot of the Burrard Bridge, with reported plans to build a mixed-use residential area, even