CityCaucus.com presents its 2009 Top Five Most Influential

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Who are Metro Vancouver's Top Five most influential? Casey Kasem counts 'em down

Everyone likes a good list, and no one ever sells lists better than longtime deejay Casey Kasem. So we've decided to enlist Kasem's image for our own list – the 2009 Metro Vancouver Top Five Most Influential public figures, compiled by the good people here at CityCaucus Tower.

Kasem had a remarkable knack for building up people's anticipation for listening to chart-topping schlock. Even poor Casey sometimes couldn't stand it. So we'll spare you the agony of a countdown, and present our list from Number One to Number Five.

Interestingly, of the Top Five only 2 on the list are actual civic elected officials from Metro Vancouver. Two are politicians from the provincial stage, and one person on the list is a bureaucrat. It's worth noting that the Mayor of Vancouver is not on the list, possibly suggesting the declining influence of 12th & Cambie in regional issues.

The truth is that no one we polled informally about this list felt that Vancouver's telegenic mayor had any real influence beyond a small group of acolytes. However, that hasn't prevented certain close colleagues of his from really exerting themselves on the political stage.

As a snapshot of the close of 2009, we think that the following list is a pretty accurate ordering of power and influence among public officials Metro Vancouver. And there is strong possibility that a year from now the list might feature a whole new set of faces.

And now, our 2009 Metro Vancouver Top Five Most Influential public figures...

#1 Rich Coleman

Minister Rich Coleman

BC's Housing Minister Rich Coleman gets our top spot as the most influential figure in Metro Vancouver politics. Without question, Coleman's deft handling of the social housing and homelessness file even in the face of a severe economic downturn deserves credit. Few governments keep their eye on downtrodden, non-voting members of society when revenues dry up. But British Columbia has, thanks in large part due to Coleman's determination.

Coleman has been called every name in the book by the province's poverty activists, but he couldn't care less. He has a vision for how to deal with the incredibly complex problem of poverty, drug addiction, lack of affordable housing, and he's sticking to his guns to see it realized. Coleman is one of a select group of ministers who kept their portfolios after the government was re-elected last spring.

This week CityCaucus.com sat down with Minister Coleman in a wide-ranging interview. In a frank discussion, Coleman explained what he expects to gain from the controversial Little Mountain development, and how he thinks Metro Vancouver mayors can respond better to social challenges in their midst.

Stay tuned to CityCaucus.com for our interview with Rich Coleman – coming soon.

#2 Dianne Watts

dianne wattsArguably the most well-known and effective Mayor in Metro Vancouver, Dianne Watts takes the number two in our list. Having inherited a political mess from former Mayor Doug Macallum in 2002, Watts has single-handedly transformed a fractious council that ignored social issues into one that is united and pressing forward to solve homelessness and public disorder.

Watts deserves credit for creatively finding ways of linking her city to the upcoming 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver. She has also played an instrumental role in helping to get several municipalities together in order that they can work together to support future economic development initiatives.

As the City of Vancouver’s leadership vacuum continues to grow at Metro Vancouver, Watts is using this opportunity to help raise her profile across the province. Political pundits have already begun to speculate that she has her eyes set on Victoria and could eventually make a run for the BC Liberal leadership, although Watts herself demurs. As the rumours continue to swirl about her future political ambitions, the Mayor of Surrey has quietly helped to transform her office into a real powerhouse within the region.

#3 Gordon Campbell

gordon campbell

Perhaps the last Mayor of Vancouver to wield real influence in the region of Greater Vancouver (now "Metro"), BC's workaholic Premier always finds time to insert himself back into shaping his home town when you least expect it.

Gordon Campbell's surprise announcement that the Province would be kicking in for a massive redevelopment of BC Place, and moving the Vancouver Art Gallery to the north side of False Creek was seen as bold to some, and mere politicking to his critics. For a few moments it turned soccer moms – always a coveted voter demographic – against his NDP opponents, who railed against an expensive stadium retrofit.

Campbell's influence on Vancouver and the region goes far beyond False Creek. He's clearly sanctioned his top ministers to pull out all the stops on files like port expansion and the Gateway transportation plan, and the extension of the UBC rapid transit line. He bulldogged for the Canada Line completion by the 2010 Games, and took the political hit on the new Convention Centre cost overrun and came out relatively unscathed.

Finally, he decided to spend his political capital earned during a good economy to create the world's first revenue neutral carbon consumption tax. Few doubt that the cost of energy will reshape cities and suburbs, and Campbell was the first regional leader on the continent to make reducing carbon consumption benefit your wallet.

Speculation is rampant about Campbell's political intentions post-2010 Games, and whether he will lead the BC beyond his party's biennial convention next fall. There is no doubt, however, that Campbell has a million items left on his to-do list as Premier.

#4 Penny Ballem

penny-ballem Regardless of what you think of Penny Ballem, she has quickly become a mover and shaker on the urban scene in BC. Trained as a haematologist, the former BC Deputy of Health Minister who worked for Premier Gordon Campbell is making waves at 12th and Cambie.

After being arbitrarily appointed to the position by the Mayor, she has worked tirelessly to reshape the operations of the City of Vancouver. A significant number of the management team have quit since she took over the reigns of power and began telling them this was no longer business as usual. Departing members of her team have been filled by individuals who have been hired from outside the ranks in order to ensure there is no history and misplaced loyalties.

Ballem quickly moved to undertake the Vancouver Services Review (similar to BC Liberal’s Core Services Review) in order to restructure and trim down the size of city hall. The first budget crafted solely under her watch is calling for a number of positions to be eliminated. This has caused a bit of a pillow fight between labour groups (big donors to Ballem’s boss) and the Vision-dominated council.

Not everyone agrees with the direction Ballem is taking Vancouver City Hall, but it’s hard to argue that she shouldn’t be one of the Top Five most influential public servants in the region.

#5 Geoff Meggs

geoff-meggs The veteran backroom operative, political strategist and now Vision Vancouver city councillor pulls most of the strings when it comes to future city policy direction. Also known as “Mayor Meggs,” he has been able to quietly hold his caucus together behind the scenes over the last as Gregor Robertson flutters from one photo op to the next.

Meggs has quickly become the point person for the Mayor on almost every single issue of importance. This is despite the fact that Robertson has several other more experienced (“MIA”) members of council such as Raymond Louie, Tim Stevenson and Heather Deal.

The rookie councillor has thankfully been able to shut down most of the previously cantankerous social poverty and civil libertarian activists in Vancouver. With the 2010 Games on our doorstep, Meggs has cleverly been able to stick-handle his way through a controversial by law limiting the rights of individuals to place signage on their private property. It's striking how little fuss has been stirred on the political left by this issue, and other perceived "right wing" approaches Vision have taken on development and taxation.

He may not officially be the Mayor of Vancouver, but everyone at City Hall knows who to go to when they want something done – and that's Meggs. As a result of this, and the fact that Meggs and his wife have become the labour left's "power couple" in B.C., he deserves his position as number five on our most influential list.

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