Hardly anything went down in Toronto this year that didn’t bear the new premier’s imprimatur. Recreational pot became legal, but not before Ford steamrolled the pre-existing plans and implemented a framework for private sales. In September, students and teachers returned to the classroom unsure of whether they were allowed to call it a penis or a pee-pee or anything at all. A little over a month before voters went to the polls, Ford chucked the municipal electoral process into a blender. He roadblocked Trudeau’s carbon tax scheme, cancelled the basic income pilot and went on and on about the all-curing virtues of one-dollar beer. So steady was the firehose feed of news flowing from Queen’s Park that you’d be forgiven for not paying attention to the other influential Torontonians who were busy changing the world in 2018. Chrystia Freeland emerged semi-victorious from her NAFTA arm-wrestle with Trump; Drake conquered the music world, and then Shawn Mendes did, too; a quirky Jungian psychology professor became the guiding light of a new global men’s movement; our adopted frightmeister, Guillermo del Toro, snagged four golden statuettes on Hollywood’s biggest stage; Jessica Mulroney became Pippa 2.0; and one brave, level-headed police officer at Yonge and Finch decided to holster his gun, rather than fire it—demonstrating to a world grappling anew with racism, bigotry and violence what Toronto is truly about.
1 At the beginning of 2018, the Ford family circus seemed like a distant hallucinogenic memory. By year’s end, its wiliest son was running the province with a Lannisterian will. Doug, a few notches smarter than Rob, got to work right away, recalling the legislature for a rare summer session. With unprecedented speed and ferocity, he torched several of Kathleen Wynne’s signature initiatives: the cap-and-trade carbon emissions program (as well as a related $100-million school repair fund), the sex-ed curriculum, the Ontario Basic Income Pilot. He froze salaries for public service managers and halted new measures on police oversight. And, of course, he chopped Toronto city council in half, which was, depending on your point of view, either a brilliant cost-cutting move or a puerile act of vengeance. “Promise made, promise kept,” Ford said, with hashtag regularity. In other words, burn it all down. Up next: Figuring out how to balance the provincial budget, while keeping his promise not to slash jobs or services.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
2 With America on sabbatical as global defender of human rights, Freeland has leapt into the void. In August, she called out MBS, the power-mad Saudi prince, for jailing a women’s rights activist. When he levied sanctions, kicked out Canada’s ambassador and ordered all Saudi students to leave Canada, Freeland doubled down, stating that Canada was “very comfortable with its position.” A month later, she appeared on a panel called “Taking on the Tyrant,” which featured a video montage of Trump alongside autocrats like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and China’s Xi Jinping. The timing didn’t help her relationship with POTUS, who was growing frustrated with the stalled NAFTA talks. “We don’t like their representative very much,” he said of Freeland, who remained characteristically unfazed. For the umpteenth time in 2018, she visited Washington in pursuit of a favourable agreement for Canada. Finally, in October, she secured a deal that protects Canada’s vital industries and, rebrand aside, isn’t so different from its predecessor. Friends in high places: In April, Freeland hosted all the G7 foreign ministers for brunch at her Summerhill house.
3 Call him bland or a ditherer, but he must have done something right to nab 63 per cent of the vote. Tory is a no-surprises maintenance man who worries, so we don’t have to, about all the unsexy stuff that keeps our metropolis running. To his credit, he has proved a smooth operator, pushing through overdue TTC improvements (express buses and reduced fares for people with disabilities, for two), forming committees (on important but dull stuff like construction road closures) that get things done, and avoiding major strikes and service disruptions. We also take for granted his steadiness when confronted with the previously unimaginable horrors of mass shootings and van attacks on our streets. Right now, with the sheer craziness to the south and the rule-by-spite at Queen’s Park, it’s nice to have Mister Reliable minding city hall. Up next:Funding for his SmartTrack transit plan finally won approval at council, but the entire thing could be a wash if he doesn’t get on the premier’s good side.
4 In 1966, John Lennon said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. In 2018, Billboard decreed Drake was bigger than the Beatles when he smashed a longstanding Fab Four record: seven of his songs appeared on the Top 10 simultaneously. Also this year, he opened the sports joint Pick 6ix, reunited the Degrassi crew for the “I’m Upset” music video, produced the police-violence film Monsters and Men, and delivered the song of the summer, “In My Feelings.” All of this matters because, outside of Canada, the first—and sometimes only—thing millions of people know about Toronto is that it’s Drake’s hometown. When he looks good, so do we. Charity circuit: He blew his “God’s Plan” video budget (roughly $1.23 million) on shopping sprees, university scholarships and other charitable causes for the people of Miami.
5 In the course of a year, Peterson went from eccentric prof to global phenomenon. His 12 Rules for Life, a self-help guide to enjoying a more enlightened existence, topped bestseller lists around the world. The New York Times columnist David Brooks called him “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world,” and by the fall, his book had sold more than two million copies. Up next: Pursuing defamation lawsuits he’s launched against two Laurier professors and a former staff member who compared him to Hitler.
6 Atwood’s fictional worlds have never been more alive in popular culture. Alias Grace earned critical fawning and roughly four million viewers on CBC plus millions more on Netflix. Season two of The Handmaid’s Tale was as good as—if bleaker than—the first. Even if the Emmys semi-snubbed the show (20 nods but no major wins), viewers didn’t; the season two premiere attracted twice the audience of the original’s. Women in red robes and white wings popped up to protest the Kavanaugh confirmation in Washington, to rally for abortion rights in Argentina, to stage an operatic Handmaid’s Tale adaptation in Australia. Up next: Season three of The Handmaid’s Tale.
7 The Harvard- and NYU-educated quadrilingual descendant of Canadian political royalty brings sophistication to an often pugnacious regime. When Ford wanted to deploy the notwithstanding clause to ram his council-slashing bill through the legislature, he tasked Mulroney with publicly defending it, then called on her again to spearhead the tricky cannabis file. Lately, she’s been touring the province and meeting with business owners who want to repeal the Liberal government’s efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Friends in high places: George W. Bush and Queen Noor of Jordan attended her 2000 wedding to Andrew Lapham.
Governor of the Bank of Canada
8 Poloz decides when to lower the Bank’s overnight rate and when to raise it, an equation that affects the worth of the dollar and the interest rate Torontonians pay on our gargantuan mortgages. Over the past five years, his other decisions have lessened the blow of Alberta’s oil collapse, kept inflation on target and wrangled unemployment to a four-decade low. This year, when POTUS threw a trade temper tantrum, Poloz boldly raised the overnight rate from 1.25 to 1.5 per cent, betting Canada would thrive despite a volley of tariffs. The arrival of USMCA proved him right. Up next: Before his term ends in June 2020, he’ll have to decide what to do with the overnight rate a dozen more times.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO
9 The horror-fantasy auteur’s masterpiece, The Shape of Water,earned a field-leading 13 Oscar nominations. When it won four trophies, including Best Picture and Best Director, del Toro used his acceptance speech to crusade for inclusion and immigration. His success is a boon to the Toronto film industry: del Toro has been shooting here since 1997’s Mimic, and every blockbuster he films in Ontario means more money, work and prestige for local crews and studios. Up next: In 2019, he’ll produce the Keri Russell horror flick, Antlers, direct Pinocchio for Netflix, and—the truest indicator of iconic status—make an animated cameo on The Simpsons.
Director, Art Gallery of Ontario
10 Stephan Jost kicked off 2018 with Guillermo del Toro’s Monsters exhibition, which drew 192,000 visitors. He followed it with Infinity Mirrors, a kaleidoscopic journey through a series of eye-popping rooms. That exhibit wasn’t just a success on Instagram; it was a financial boon (169,000 visitors) and confirmation that the AGO isn’t just for monocle-hoisters and art majors. It’s a cultural centre for all, an oasis of thought-provoking works, live concerts, evening yoga sessions and much more. Friends in high places: He’s on a first-name basis with the Obamas.
Chief of Police
11 Two catastrophes—the Yonge and Finch van attack and the Danforth shooting—and a string of violent incidents made the summer of 2018 memorable for all the wrong reasons. But when Constable Ken Lam stared down Alek Minassian at Yonge and Sheppard and chose to holster, rather than fire, his sidearm, the Toronto Police—and their leader, Saunders—became a symbol of everything that’s right about law enforcement, especially in the eyes of Americans fed up with police brutality. Up next: Modernizing the force by deploying officers where and when their presence is most needed, a reform that’s long been challenged by the union.
12 The kinder, gentler Justin Bieber is now eclipsing his forerunner. His self-titled 2018 album shot to the top of the Billboard 200 chart and earned him Billboard’s inaugural Artist of the Year award, the same honour he picked up at the MMVAs. He’s now a certified A-lister: he graced the cover of Variety’s Young Hollywood issue, attended his first Met Ball, scored an invite to Taylor Swift’s American Music Awards after-party (with a trophy in hand), made cameos on The Voice and Ellen, landed on Justin Trudeau’s summer playlist, rocked the Jingle Ball tour with Cardi B, received an adoring write-up in the Time 100 from his hero John Mayer and performed for the Queen. Dave Grohl called Mendes a “bad motherfucker”—a compliment in Foo speak. Oh, and did we mention he’s only 20 years old? Up next: Starring in an Ivan Reitman movie musical called Summer of Love.