Alberta’s 50 Most Influential People
Alberta has been in the national spotlight more than ever over the past year, and justifiably so. From across the province and from every walk of life, these Albertans stepped forward and made their mark
Profiles by Will Gibson, Tracy Hyatt, Michael McCullough and Cait Wills
Much has been made of Alberta’s growing position of leadership in national affairs. Nowhere is this more evident than in our annual list of the province’s 50 Most Influential People. While past nominees were anything but slouches, their impact seldom extended far beyond our borders. By contrast the members of this, our 10th Most Influential list, seem to have undergone a power surge. From our first sitting prime minister to Canada’s most accomplished Olympic athlete, to the helmsmen and women of some of the largest capital projects the country has ever seen, the class of ‘06 has broader horizons and higher ambitions than any such group that came before. Winnowed down from a long list submitted by editors, well connected Albertans and readers, we chose 50 individuals and teams whose thoughts, words, actions and achievements in almost every field of endeavour have, or will have, the greatest influence on the greatest number of people, around the province and beyond it, too. Here are their stories.
From rookie parliamentarian two years ago, Rona Ambrose, the 36-year-old Edmonton-Spruce Grove MP has risen to become part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inner circle, taking on the environment portfolio in cabinet which, given the Kyoto denouement, may prove to be the hottest potato on the minority government’s plate. The government’s still-cloudy climate change strategy couald have profound implications for the future of Alberta’s energy industry.
Colin Becker & Bill Bradley
As president and vice-president of Calgary-based Bridgecreek Development Corp., Colin Becker and Bill Bradley are building the biggest new resort in the Alberta Rockies in decades in the Crowsnest Pass area. Budgeted at $1.5 billion, Bridgegate on Crowsnest Lake will feature a 300-room hotel, posh spa and fitness facilities and up to 1,800 condominiums.
Voice of Prudence
A former deputy minister of finance in Saskatchewan and adviser to various senior governments, University of Alberta professor Paul Boothe caused a stir last spring by publicly predicting that our cash-flush provincial government will be wallowing in deficits four or five years from now – as little as two years if energy prices slip. Suddenly the Edmontonian is the go-to guy for fiscal prudence.
In his 20 years as chief of the Fort McKay First Nation, Jim Boucher has been instrumental in helping his community achieve economic self-reliance. After 10 years of negotiations, Boucher reached an agreement in April to lease sections of treaty land to Shell Canada Limited for the multinational’s Athabasca Oil Sands Project. It’s the first time aboriginal lands have been considered for oilsands development, a notable turn in aboriginal participation in Alberta.
Last year the Alberta Chamber of Resources named Syncrude Canada Ltd. president and chief operating officer Jim Carter its Resource Person of the Year for his contributions to improved environmental performance, workplace safety, aboriginal relations and innovation. But the 27-year resident of Fort McMurray has long set the standard for oilsands expertise, combining experience from the mining and oil and gas sectors.
Appointed Alberta film commissioner in 2001, Dan Chugg has successfully wooed and won major film productions to the province. Chugg’s campaign reached a new peak last year when he convinced director Ang Lee to use the rolling foothills west of Calgary to replace Wyoming as the setting for Brokeback Mountain. The gay-themed cowboy romance captured widespread critical acclaim, $178 million in worldwide box office receipts and three Academy Awards. Brokeback’s critical and commercial success has opened doors for Chugg, who has pitched Alberta’s low costs, stunning landscapes and Oscar-calibre production crews to producers from Hollywood to Tokyo in the past year. The one-time high-school chemistry teacher successfully ran video producer Vicom Multimedia Inc. until 2001, when the Alberta government decided to revive its dormant film commission and appointed Chugg to head it. Chugg’s aggressive marketing push, which included ads touting the Alberta Advantage in Hollywood trade bibles such as Variety, has reaped dividends, with the industry generating $129 million in the 2003/04 fiscal year. While Chugg has shown a flair for publicity stunts worthy of P.T. Barnum, sending cowboys to the streets of New York City to promote Alberta’s film industry, he is no self-promoter and declined to be interviewed.
Bonnie DuPont works as group vice-president for corporate resources with Enbridge Inc., sits as a director on the Canadian Wheat Board, was named to the Globe and Mail’s 2005 list of 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada and was recognized by the University of Calgary as one of the top 40 alumni – along with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and astronaut Robert Thirsk – of the 115,000 graduates produced by her alma mater. Even with all those qualifications and recognition, the most compelling evidence of DuPont’s clout comes from a social club. In May 2007, DuPont will become president of the Calgary Petroleum Club’s board of governors, 18 years after the august institution admitted its first female member. One of only 75 women among the club’s 1,600-plus members, DuPont has earned plenty of respect in the male-dominated oilpatch. The onetime human resources director for the Alberta Wheat Pool has also earned professional accolades, receiving the Human Resources Institute of Alberta’s Award of Distinction in 2006. DuPont also remains a very active and high-profile community volunteer, serving as the Leadership Giving Co-Chair for the 2006 United Way of Calgary and Area campaign.
The oil and gas boom has pushed Murray Edwards’ net worth into the rarified ranks of billionaires, and he’s a hands-on investor, chairing or sitting on the boards of more companies, inside and outside the province, than most of us have stocks in. The most significant is Canadian Natural Resources Limited, which last year broke ground on the mother of all oilsands projects, Horizon. The Calgary resident is also at least part-owner of regional icons such as the Calgary Flames NHL hockey team and the Lake Louise ski resort in Banff National Park.
Charlie Fischer was deservedly named Alberta Venture’s Business Person of the Year in 2005 as his long-term game plan to make his Calgary-based company, Nexen Inc., an all-around leader began to bear fruit in its oil and gas projects, its corporate governance practices and its financial results. Our sold-out luncheon in his honour in January was testament to the goodwill and respect this Calgarian commands in Alberta’s business community.
Few academics have cut a wider swath in Canada’s groves of academe as University of Calgary political scientist Tom Flanagan. One of the conservative theorists who founded the so-called Calgary School and gained notoriety with his controversial views on Louis Riel and First Nations treaty rights, the American expatriate holds considerable influence in political circles owing to his tight relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Flanagan, who cut his teeth in Canadian politics as a key aide to Preston Manning during the Reform Party’s infancy, managed Harper’s successful campaigns for the leader’s job for the Reformers in 2002 and the reunited Conservatives in 2004. The media-wary Flanagan also served as the Tories’ spin doctor-in-chief for the January 2006 election campaign, which saw the end of 13 years of Liberal political hegemony with Harper forming a minority government. While Flanagan returned to the ivory tower in Calgary following the election, he remains a senior adviser and close confidante to the new prime minister. Admirers and critics alike see signs of Flanagan’s neo-con imprint on tactics and policies of the fledgling government, whose recent poll numbers show Flanagan may realize his goal of re-establishing the coalition of Western Canadian and Quebec voters who handed majority election wins to Brian Mulroney’s Tories in 1984 and 1988.