At the top of our annual Power List are the unknown victims of residential schools—hundreds of children who lost their lives before they were finally heard.
Here, in brief, is the thinking behind our decision, which some may consider unorthodox. In 2021, amid report after report of presumed grave sites being found on the former grounds of residential schools, non-Indigenous Canadians undeniably experienced an awakening.
Everyone from random citizens doing TV street interviews to the Prime Minister himself voiced horror and dismay, as if blindsided by the fact that the assimilationist project this country ran for the better part of a century had claimed the lives of children. Many, many children.
We were not blindsided, of course. The deaths of young Indigenous kids at places like Tk’emlúps, Cowessess and Williams Lake, B.C. were shared widely in the accounts of former students, who passed the knowledge to their children and grandchildren. They were meticulously reported by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.
We’ve a long way to go to fulfill the essential goals of that commission. But the massive shift in public attitudes that followed the grave discoveries is undeniable. Before making this choice, Maclean’s consulted privately with Indigenous, Métis and Inuit leaders, who unanimously approved of, and in some cases applauded, the idea. The grave finds, they agreed, changed the tone and substance of debate over Indigenous rights. Whether that change yields action, they’re waiting to see.
As in 2021, our ranking hews toward good-faith actors pursuing positive change, even if their approaches, or their notions of positive, are not universally shared. Pierre Poilievre, the presumptive frontrunner for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, is not everyone’s first choice as a seatmate on a long flight. But the Tory MP excels in his role as an opposition critic, holding the government’s feet to the fire.
And again, we’ve looked beyond mere status. The nabobs of banking, lobbying, telecom and other arms of the establishment must do more than occupy corner offices to merit berths on our ranking.
The result, we believe, is a list that reflects the pressing issues facing the country, and the opportunities ahead. Attentive readers will notice that Canadians who guided us through the first years of the pandemic—public health leaders, epidemiologists—have given way in this year’s ranking to those who will guide us out of it.
It’s our version of cautious optimism. With luck and good sense, we’ll emerge from Omicron into a world where COVID-19 is a managed risk, and we’ll refocus on the challenges that define Canada and its place in the world. As ever, our ability to navigate these problems will rest heavily on our brightest, bravest and most accomplished. Remember their names, and lend them your ears.