Evan Solomon is the new host of PowerPlay on CTV

News veteran Don Martin recently announced his retirement one of the most significant television shows covering politics daily from Ottawa. Martin hosted CTV’s PowerPlay for the better part of a decade. We didn’t find out who would replace him until Monday.

Evan Solomon PowerPlay

And with that Evan Solomon steps up to take over in 2020. Previously the host of CBC’s Power & Politics, Evan was knocked off his perch at CBC News when it was revealed that he was doing some art-dealing on the side with some of the news figures that he was covering. Usually, CBC usually likes to avoid conflicts of interest for its hosts. Of course, this didn’t seem to apply when Rosemary Barton filed a lawsuit against the Conservative Party on the same day she hosted the national leader’s debate during the 43rd general election.

Evan has had a slow climb back ever since. He hosted a daily radio program at Ottawa’s CFRA and was eventually brought on as a host on CTV’s question period.

CTV’s Power Play is the show opposite the one that Evan used to host along with Barton on CBC. Now, though Evan has reclaimed the timeslot, his former co-host has moved on to co-host The National.

As one of Evan’s colleagues in the Press Gallery put it to me years ago, Power Play is Bell’s daily hour of impressing its importance upon Canada’s federal government — which, it may surprise you to learn, regulates the telecom company and its industry. My wise friend noted that it didn’t even matter if CTV got any significant ratings among the folks at home. She pointed out that this is evidenced by the low cost ads for sit-down showers and CHIP-reverse mortgages that litter CTV and CBC during these hours.

PowerPlay regularly features panels of lobbyists labeled “strategists” for the folks at home. Watching Don Martin’s PowerPlay, I once spotted Bell’s Conservative lobbyist and Bell’s Liberal lobbyist on the same panel.

The other featured panel is the one for backbench MPs. Both lobbyist and MP panels are emailed talking points from their respective party liaisons at most a few hours before the show.

Among other eyebrow-raising moves on the show, cabinet ministers would ‘guest-host’ the show when Don was golfing down south. All wins for certain VPs at Bell to be sure.

If there’s one thing we hope that Evan Solomon can bring to PowerPlay’s new format is a ban on useless talking point panels, let alone a moratorium on the flattering of government ministers with TV gigs.

Evan Solomon interviews Conservative leader Andrew Scheer

We hope for more one-on-one interviews; the types of grilling interviews that Solomon conducted on Sundays on Question Period. If television news is still to be an accountability function for our democracy, let Solomon bring more of it to his daily show.

In our now-regionally-divided country, Solomon should also regularly take his show on the road. Every month, he should host CTV PowerPlay from one of Canada’s provincial/territorial legislatures. The interface between federal and provincial politics will be crucial over the next 1.5-4 years. It is important for Canadians and policy makers to appreciate this dynamic.

Take the show outside of the studio too. Find the coffee shops, airport gates, and job sites where federal policies are making their effects on people.

Let CBC continue its daily coverage of the special interest groups that line up for pork in the federal budget. CTV should forge a new path and interview representatives from the small business community and those now out-of-work in Alberta. Of course, these folks will be lobbying for themselves and their families and they would never consider calling themselves partisan ‘strategists’.

Though you may have detected some cynicism above, I’m always hopeful for change and the appointment of Evan Solomon to host CTV’s PowerPlay is a welcome development. Yet, we should continue to ask how PowerPlay can serve the public interest instead of Bell’s regulatory strategy.

Could Alison Redford be the next Trudeau minister from Alberta?

Justin Trudeau has a problem on his hands. The Liberal caucus that formed a majority government in 2015 for Trudeau has been reduced to a minority. The new distribution of seats has exposed troublesome regional divisions in Canada. The separatist Bloc is back in Quebec, while Alberta and Saskatchewan formed its own block of Conservative seats, save one lone NDP MP.

The prime minister faces the prospect of forming cabinet without regional representation in either Western province. With such regional divides and alienation rising, this is an issue that Trudeau cannot ignore.

There are a few options that have been bandied about in the establishment press about how Trudeau can begin to address the resentment felt by these two Western provinces. Some have been tone-deaf, and most have been poor ideas. From opposition MPs, Senators, or even former Premiers, what will Trudeau do?

Floor crossing or outsourcing?

In the end, Mr. Trudeau will need lone Alberta NDP MP Heather McPherson to cross the floor, or he will need to appoint an unelected Canadian into his cabinet. The federal NDP agenda is antogonistic to Western Canadians who voted for the development of energy projects and thus would be a non-starter. Prime ministers have appointed unelected Canadians to serve in ministries before. Stephane Dion and Pierre Pettigrew were initially unelected members of cabinet in Paul Martin’s government.

Ralph Goodale’s name has been offered up. The stalwart Liberal who was a sure-thing for Liberal cabinet makers finally went down in defeat on October 21st. His appointment to cabinet would ignore the outright rejection of a Trudeau mandate on the prairies. Goodale’s appointment wouldn’t be a surprise, however his presence would do little to stem the tide of resentment in this part of Canada.

Surely, not the non-partisan Senate!

Trudeau will also find it difficult to appoint a Senator to his cabinet. Though Stephen Harper appointed Senator Michael Fortier to the 28th ministry in order to reflect Montreal representation in his government, Trudeau has made a large show of the ‘non-partisan’ nature of the Senate. An appointment from the Upper Chamber to the government would shred the rest of his credibility on this file.

That brings us to an uncoventional appointment which would satisfy regional representation and complicate matters advantageously for Trudeau.

Red, Redder, Redford

Allison Redford is the former Premier of Alberta. She is seen by the central Canadian establishment as a ‘Tolerable Tory’ and the kind of ‘Conservative’ that Albertans should be sending to Ottawa. Of course, Albertans disagree. Redford’s popularity in that province plumetted to 18% after a series of entitlement and travel scandals, before she faced a caucus revolt and was forced to resign.

However, to those that matter to Trudeau, the prime minister would sell such an appointment as ‘reaching across the aisle’ and to bridge the divide between Ottawa and the West.

Redford would jump at the chance

For Redford’s part, she would say yes to such an appointment. Having felt unceremoniously spurned by a province that rejected her, Redford has been re-emerging in media and has been spotted testing the waters on re-establishing the esteemed reputation of an ’eminent Canadian’ among the Laurentian consensus.

Alison Redford during governing times

Redford has indicated that she is willing to help the Trudeau government in an advisory capacity. Redford told CTV News, “I am happy to help in any way. This is something Canadians have been thinking about for a long time and I think the key is that there has to be a lot of voices at the table.” She added, “If there’s something I can do, I’m happy to help.”

Kenney conundrum

Redford’s appointment would be a fly in the ointment to the current Premier, Jason Kenney. Though 95% of PC and Wildrose members voted for merger that Kenney orchestrated, many saw the outcome as a Wildrose takeover by the PC party.

Kenney is wildly popular in the province, especially as the province wars against another Trudeau. As a former PC Premier, Redford could be a complicating factor for Kenney. This would be especially true if Redford were appointed to the post of Minister of Natural Resources.

Despite her reputational damage, the gravitas of a former Premier in Trudeau’s cabinet would put up an Albertan dissenter and appellative equal versus Mr. Kenney.

The 44th General election

Let’s not forget that with this minority Parliament, we could be back into an election soon. The longer that western alienation is left to fester, the more the ballot question will become about who is best suited to address regional anger and unite the country.

Liberals have had poor showings in Alberta for so long that we can easily say that they are traditionally unpopular in that province. A party cannot credibly govern a country if it has a deep-rooted antagonistic relationship with a significant portion of it.

For the Liberal Party of Canada, either the future looks like more of the same with an aloof attitude toward the West, or that party’s unsustainable track is addressed and they finally produce a plan for allowing Alberta to play to its economic strengths.

Would Alison Redford be the awkward beginning of such outreach to the West? We remain highly skeptical of her benefit to Alberta and to Canadian unity, but it certainly would do more for Trudeau’s cabinet recalculation than adding with zeroes.

We need exit polling for Canadian elections

On October 21st, Justin Trudeau was reduced to minority government status with stronger Conservative opposition forming dominant regional representation in the west and a resurgent Bloc Quebecois spoiling the night for federalist parties in Quebec. Yet, despite this black eye for Trudeau, much of the focus has been on Andrew Scheer’s campaign. Why did he come up short? What held him back? Why could this new opposition leader not do something unprecedented in Canadian history and unseat a one-term majority Prime Minister on his first outing?

Was it Mr. Scheer’s social conservatism? Was it the well-worn Liberal narrative in Ontario that Doug Ford’s “cuts” would be a template for a federal Conservative government? Was it climate change? Many theories abound among jaw-wagging pundits angling for clicks and among Liberals looking to introduce discord into the Conservative party. But why is there such a cottage industry of political know-it-alls offering up theories?

We lack useful data when it comes to why people vote the way they do in Canadian elections.

American context

In the United States, exit polls are conducted the day of the election as voters leave the polls. They are asked who they voted for and why they voted as they did. Their demographics, districts, and psychographics are jotted down and they are asked the kind of questions we are only speculating about in Canada today.

American pundits and commentators are able to appreciate why women in Wisconsin rejected one candidate, while college educated men in Colorado supported another. Depending on the depth of the survey, illuminating results can be derived that can have a real impact on representation and outreach.

So, why don’t we do exit polling in Canadian elections?

It mostly comes down to cost. Pollsters typically take 1000 person samples for their polls on the best of days. This sample is distributed across the country. A person’s reasons for voting Liberal may differ significantly in one part of the country and among one demographic than it may among others in another part of the country. These divisions raise the margin of error among an already small sample. Nik Nanos has an alternative approach where he queries a rolling sample of a few hundred people per day and then pools the result.

Pollsters are already preoccupied with making the best showing as confirmed by the actual electoral result. Exit polls, by contrast, do not have a comparative check on accuracy and therefore don’t award reputational kudos.

Yet, this missing data creates a huge blindspot and hurts our ability to understand the result. Currently, we add up the seats and speculate from there.

Better understanding leads to better representation

Furthermore, it is important to appreciate late-breaking issues that were determining factors in why electors cast their ballot. Vote-switching is also a phenomenon not well-quantified in Canada one that becomes more and more important as Canadians vote strategically in a fractured multi-party system that elects a candidate under first-past-the-post.

Of course, it is illegal to broadcast or disseminate an election survey during the blackout period defined by Canada’s elections regulator. Most importantly, this includes election day itself.

No person shall cause to be transmitted to the public, in an electoral district on polling day before the close of all of the polling stations in that electoral district, the results of an election survey that have not previously been transmitted to the public. 

Canada Elections Act

However, polling can be conducted with the results held until the polls close. Canadian elections and exit polling – it’s long overdue.

So, what halted Andrew Scheer’s victory in Ontario? In Quebec? For that matter, why did Singh lose his caucus in Quebec? Why did Trudeau lose his majority? Without exit polling, we are left to rely on speculation and hot air from pundits.