Evan Solomon has big shoes to fill in 2020 as he replaces Don Martin on Powerplay, CTV News Channel’s daily marquee political program. It may be a new hat for him, but he continues to do what he does best; holding politician’s feet to the fire and helping Canadians get to the heart of the issues that matter most.
We talked work, family, life, and the best advice he’s ever received.
You’re replacing Don Martin on CTV’s Powerplay. What are you most looking forward to?
It’s an honour to step into the big shoes of a great journalist and a friend like Don Martin who I’ve known for a long time. I’m really trying to carry on the tradition of Powerplay; just holding politician’s feet to the fire, not tolerating political spin, and making politics accessible to Canadians who want to get involved. Powerplay is kind of like the best dinner party you could have; when there’s a really good debate with great people at the table that have some skin in the game. You have primary sources about the political matters of the day with no punches pulled, no holes barred, and a good debate. So you can learn something, have fun and get engaged.
You know, I’ve been covering politics for a long time, and I think I have a specific political interview and questioning style. I really try to be fair, equally hard on everybody, holding everybody’s feet to the fire equally. I hope that people realize that we have zero tolerance for spin. We try to be candid, knowledgeable, and we try to get at the information that matters to Canadians. We try to be fair, balanced, firm and fun. And we have a great team to do that.
With three separate shows on the go, what does your schedule look like?
I’ll be hosting our national radio program called Overview everyday on all Bell Stations from 12 – 2, which is a current affairs program that has anything you want to talk radio. Politics, life, we get great interviews with all sorts of people. We also do call-ins. Then from 5 – 6, I will go to Powerplay, and do the national political affairs program. And I’ll do both those programs from Monday – Thursday. And then on Friday, I switch over and I work on CTV’s Question Period, our network political show which airs Sunday morning on the main network at 11 AM Eastern Time.
How do you manage your many hats?
In some ways, it’s not that much different. Currently I do Question Period, I do a four-hour radio show, a two-hour national show, and a two-hour local show every day, and I do a lot of other radio and television stuff. So in a sense, it’s all a little more manageable because it’s still an 8-6 day.
I’ve been working in TV, radio and print for so long, at the same time, and I think most journalists now realize that you kind of have to be a bit of a swiss army knife, right? You’ve got to do television and radio …right? And that’s just the new world of journalism.
And speaking of the new world, you are very active on Twitter and social media. Do you think that social media and politics are a good match? Any possible downsides?
There is a downside to it because social media can take over and drive all sorts of stories through the herd mentality. The facts can get bulldozed in the stampede of social media. I love social media. I love that you can communicate quickly, that you can get a lot of reaction, it’s a great news source. But the downside is that it can blur the facts; it can make people only concerned about top-line stuff and miss the details. It can subject you to all sorts of fake news, so you really have to be careful and fact check.
As we enter a new decade, what are some of your goals for the 2020s?
Well, I have to make this stuff work! (Laughs) I have a couple chainsaws juggling in the air. I have the same goals that I’ve always had. I love my job. And balancing Powerplay and Question Period and Overview is going to be great because these are the three greatest jobs I could possibly have. I’m unbelievably grateful. And then I’m just balancing that with real life. I’ve got kids! You know, I’m at the hockey rink literally five times a week. It’s like every single Canadian is trying to figure out how to balance their life. And for me, at this moment, it’s really great because I have the best problem I could possibly have right now. I really love my job and I really love my family, so I’m trying to find time for both. And if that’s my biggest problem right now, I do not need even the world’s tiniest violin.
Speaking of family time, what are some of your favourite places to go in Ottawa when you do have a day off?
I’m a runner and I run all through the winter and the summer. So I’ve got a bunch of guys that go out early in the mornings for an 8 or 10 Km run and I love that. So if I can get out for a run, you know, five times a week it’s fantastic. And anytime I can play any kind of sport—I don’t care what kind of sport—I will. I play a lot of guitar too. If my life was just family, journalism, sports and music, I’d be okay.
You have to eat, though. Do you have any favourite restaurants or coffee spots in Ottawa?
I like coffee but I’m not a picky coffee guy. Like I make coffee at home because I’m cheap. (Laughs) I’ll go out and drink Tim Hortons or the Ministry of Coffee. I like a good cup of coffee.
There are tons of great restaurants in Ottawa. I actually think the food scene in Ottawa is awesome right now. I have some go-to’s. Here’s the new go-to that my kids and my wife and I like: Farinella, it’s killer pizza.
Another one is Ola Cocina in Vanier. It’s just like little Mexican tacos. I love that stuff. So good. For a nice dinner, you can’t go wrong with The Whalesbone. There are a lot of great places in Ottawa, the food scene is really great.
How do you and your family make the most of the winter weather in Ottawa?
My son lives on the outdoor rink across the street. The ODR. That’s what kids call it these days. We live on the ODR. He and his buddies are on it every night. My daughter is a competitive ringette player. And my wife’s a coach, and I assistant coach my son. So we’re at rinks way too much but we love it.
We also like to ski, I like to skate ski, and I run. We’re outdoorsy. We snowshoe, we ski, we’re outside a lot.
In Ottawa, you just have to make a choice. Either you are going to hate the winter—and there are a lot of reasons to do that—or, you’re going to do what a lot of people in Ottawa do, and decide to totally going to embrace the winter. They go skating on the canal, and go to the outdoor rinks and to Gatineau park, and do tons of winter activities.
I have a lot of family in Toronto. And they come to visit in the winter. And we’ll do a cross country ski out to one of the cabins in Gatineau for a late-night, where you cook your own dinner, and we bring out the fondue. And people are like where are we? They think we’re in Switzerland. But no, it’s Ottawa, and the cabins are incredible. People cannot believe they are 15 minutes from the city.
Last Friday, I went to the Christmas market at Lansdowne and it looked like I was in Europe. You know, Ottawa is changing so fast. The concerts at Lansdowne, too. Ottawa is on fire right now.
Do you and your wife have any traditions for Valentine’s Day?
We always go out for dinner. It’s my dad’s birthday on Valentine’s Day, so we usually do a family thing but my Dad’s in Toronto. The kids always give us a card or something small. We do all that stuff. I actually don’t mind it. People always say it’s such a manufactured holiday and I’m like, are there too many moments where the world tells you, go out and tell the person you love that you love them? Are there really too many of those or would a few more kill us? I’m basically on side two.
When you look back on your career, what is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
Three things, to be candid. Many many years ago, the guy who founded WIRED Magazine—I used to be the editor of a magazine called Shift that I started years ago—told me, make sure that whatever you do in life, you try something that’s so risky and ambitious, that even if you fail, you will fail upward. So even the experience of trying is so worthwhile, that even if it doesn’t work, you learn so much that it’s worth it. Because if you try something incremental, even if you succeed, it’s not worth much and if you fail it’s not worth much.
I was also told ‘don’t be afraid to be afraid’. You’re going to be nervous in your life. Everybody is. The people that say they’re not nervous are actually lying, they are nervous. It’s not about getting over the fear, you live with it, and don’t let that stop you from trying new things.
Finally, I was told this by a really great journalist, never be afraid to ask a question. It’s not a sign of stupidity, it’s a sign of curiosity.
The same journalist told me that even when it’s tough to ask someone a question, you’re doing the favour because you’re telling the story. And if you’re really telling the story genuinely, you’re not intruding on people, you’re actually telling the story. So never be afraid to ask a question. You’re not sounding stupid and you’re not stealing anything. You’re doing it in the service of telling a story and getting at something.
That means you’re listening and you’re asking more than you’re preaching which is really bad. As soon as you’re a know-it-all you’re toast in this business.
And that’s the difference between a journalist and a partisan. A partisan person knows the answer before they ask the question. So they already have the answer and it doesn’t matter what the question is because they are defending a position. A journalist doesn’t know the answer before they ask the question. And if you figure that out then you’re okay.