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.

Peter MacKay, in context

News from last week included the opposition finding outrage in an apparent discrepancy of cost estimation of the Canadian mission in Libya by Defence Minister Peter MacKay. In an interview on CBC’s The House with Evan Solomon last October MacKay had stated that the mission costs were coming in under a projected $60 million by about $10 million dollars. Recently, this figure was updated to $347 million. The opposition has accused the government of misleading Canadians on the cost of the Libyan mission as a result.

Here, for example is a report filed on CBC.ca,

Defence Minister Peter MacKay is defending the government’s accounting of the costs of Canada’s military mission in Libya, following the release of new figures by the Department of National Defence that lay out the final cost of the deployment.

The department puts the incremental costs of the mission — costs the military says would not have been incurred if Canadian Forces had not been deployed — at just under $100 million.

And the total cost of the operation — a figure that includes everything from jet fuel to pilot salaries, including the salaries of military personnel — comes in at $347 million.

Last October, MacKay told CBC Radio’s The House the Libyan mission had cost taxpayers less than $50 million.

“As of Oct. 13, the figures that I’ve received have us well below that, somewhere under $50 million,” MacKay said.

“And that’s the all-up costs of the equipment that we have in the theatre, the transportation to get there, those that have been carrying out this critical mission.”

Here’s what MacKay said in that interview (bolded for emphasis),

EVAN SOLOMON (HOST):
The mission in Libya is wrapping up. The Secretary General of NATO announced that there would be no extension, as the Libyan government has asked, until the end of the year. NATO wraps up its mission on October 31st. Can you tell Canadians what the cost of the Libyan mission was to Canadians.

PETER MACKAY (MINISTER OF DEFENCE):
Sure, the initial projection, as you know, going back some six months or more, would have us in the range of about 60 million dollars. As of October 13th, the figures that I’ve received have us well below that, somewhere under 50 million dollars. And that’s the all up costs of the equipment that we have in the theatre, the transportation to get there, those that have been carrying out this critical mission

EVAN SOLOMON (HOST):
Well it certainly will be a long process ahead, but you’re just confirming that the mission that Canada partook in, the seven-month mission, will cost Canadians all in 50 million dollars now.

PETER MACKAY (MINISTER OF DEFENCE):
That’s the figure I was given, so I’m giving you that number with the proviso that there could be more costs that come in after the fact. The fact that we are now ramping down the mission, bringing back significant equipment and personnel, some 650 were there, we have a ship in the area, we have aircrafts, fighter aircrafts, patrol aircrafts, refuelers.

Does this add unreported context? Did MacKay report the number he was given by his department by provided the caveat that more costs could come in? The CBC report does not mention this disclaimer on cost estimates and opposition upset over “misleading” Canadians does seems to hinge on the suggestion that MacKay was absolutely fixed on $50 million as a cost estimate. It would be fair to the Minister (and to the news consumer) to provide this extra context.

The CBC report does provide the government’s defence of the numbers, after the fact, and only after they were accused of misleading Canadians last week,

The minister continued, “Of course, the mission went on. There were extensions … there was, in fact, then the cost of bringing equipment and personnel home. This is incremental costing.”

At an event in Edmundston, N.B., on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper noted the total figure of $347 million includes the ongoing costs of operating the Canadian military, and he defended the earlier estimates.

“We always give the most up-to-date figures and it’s important also to know … that these figures include normal operations of the Canadian military, of those assets over that period,” Harper said.

However, from the original material from the date and interview under scrutiny, and from CBC no less, we see MacKay provide proviso of those cost estimates. Why is this not reported?