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Evan Solomon fired for having hand in cookie jar

Bernnie Federko

TRIBE Member
CBC journalist facilitated sales of art to wealthy Canadians he dealt with in his job — including one buyer who had no idea Solomon was collecting a commission.

Published on Jun 09 2015
Kevin Donovan
INVESTIGATIONS
One of the CBC’s rising star hosts has secretly been brokering lucrative art deals with people he has dealt with in his job on television and radio, an apparent breach of the national broadcaster’s code of ethics.
Evan Solomon, 47, is the Ottawa-based host of Power and Politics on television and The House on CBC radio. He is one of the people touted to replace Peter Mansbridge on The National when the veteran newsman retires.
The Star found Solomon has been brokering the sale of paintings and masks owned by a flamboyant Toronto-area art collector to rich and famous buyers. Solomon, in at least one case, took commissions in excess of $300,000 for several pieces of art and did not disclose to the buyer that he was being paid fees for introducing buyer and seller.
The CBC took Solomon off the air Monday pending an investigation. The move came after the Star presented the results of its probe of Solomon to the CBC.
“We’re looking into the allegations to see if any lines were crossed and while we do that over the next couple of days, Evan won’t be on the air,” said CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson, who added that Solomon is still working and has not been suspended.
Among the people to whom Solomon has brokered the sale of paintings are Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research In Motion (now BlackBerry) and Mark Carney, the former Bank of Canada governor and current governor of the Bank of England.
Solomon, as a journalist, has dealt with both men in his high-profile host jobs at the CBC. Carney, who is also a friend, has been a guest on both of Solomon’s shows.
Solomon met Balsillie while courting him as a journalist two years ago in unsuccessful attempts to get him on CBC to discuss sustainable development and small businesses, as well as Balsillie’s role in backing the search for the Franklin expedition ships.
In email correspondence between Solomon and art collector Bruce Bailey, Solomon uses code words to disguise the identity of each man: Carney is “the Guv” and Balsillie is “Anka,” the latter an apparent reference to a similarity in looks with singer Paul Anka.
In one email exchange from 2014 — after Carney made a purchase — Solomon tells his art collector partner that Carney’s international contacts will be very important as they move forward in their attempts to sell more paintings.

“Next year in terms of the Guv will be very interesting. He has access to highest power network in the world,” Solomon wrote.
In another exchange, this one referring to Balsillie, the CBC host said in an email that “there are other Ankas out there as we build a portfolio. It will be a fun journey.”
The CBC code of ethics states that employees “must not use their positions to further their personal interests.”
In an interview Monday, Solomon first told the Star that he had no involvement in the art world.
“I have never been involved in an art business,” he said. “I have never sold any art to anyone.”
When the Star inquired further, Solomon said he was involved but had done nothing wrong. “I have been involved in an art business and it is all disclosed to CBC.”
Solomon then said: “I am no longer involved in the business. It is over.”
CBC spokesman Thompson initially said Solomon had disclosed his involvement with an art business sometime in the past two years and that CBC had no concerns.
“Evan didn’t trade on his journalistic contacts,” Thompson said, explaining Solomon and his wife have long had a personal interest in the art world. “It was made very clear he has to ensure there can be no lines crossed with the journalism.”
After the Star provided the CBC with detailed allegations, including a copy of the draft contract between Solomon and the art collector, Thompson told the Star the CBC would look into the matter.
Solomon is a two-time Gemini Award winner who came to the CBC in 1994. He was previously the editor-in-chief of Shift, a magazine he co-founded about technology and culture.
His job as host of two flagship CBC shows has brought him in constant contact with the movers and shakers on Parliament Hill. He frequently entertains at his Rockcliffe home and is often invited to dinners and events by Ottawa power brokers. To give back to the community, he is involved with the annual Riverkeepers charitable event, which raises money to protect the Ottawa River.
Solomon has been friends for many years with Bailey, a well-known patron of the arts who has been referred to in social circles as Canada’s “Gatsby,” a nod to the wealthy and popular character of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby. Bailey is known for his generosity and love of a good party, many of which he has hosted over the years.
Bailey wanted to part with some of his pieces, including paintings and ceremonial masks. His large collection includes works by Kim Dorland and Peter Doig.
In the summer of 2013, and into the fall, Solomon was trying to land an on-air interview with Balsillie on CBC. Balsillie had received a federal appointment to chair an initiative to help small and medium-sized companies bring sustainable technologies to market. Balsillie was also a key figure in the Arctic mission to find the ships from the ill-fated 1846 Franklin expedition.
There were calls and emails back and forth. For example, on Oct. 1, 2013, Solomon asked if Balsillie would “come on” his show to discuss a Franklin mission announcement. Balsillie was not available.

On Oct. 22, Solomon emailed Bailey and told him they should finalize their contract because Jim Balsillie, known for having an interest in art, would be coming the following week to Ottawa, where Solomon lives.
“Hey Bruce, hope all is well today. Jim called me this morning and he is coming to Ottawa on Monday and wants to get together and he wants to talk art. So I think we should finalize our arrangement and get going as he wants to move fast. I’ve drawn up an agreement here based on your idea of 10 per cent,” Solomon wrote.
That day Bailey and Solomon arrived at a business arrangement, which is set out in contract form and referred to by Solomon in subsequent emails to Bailey. Solomon is described in a draft of the contract between the two men in this way:
“Whereas Solomon is a Canadian journalist and has become familiar with collectors and others who might have an interest in purchasing Canadian and other art.”
According to the draft, “Solomon agrees to, from time to time, introduce (Bailey) to such persons as Jim Balsillie, Reza Satchu and others who might be interested in purchasing the works of arts carried by (Bailey) or who have a relationship with (Bailey).”
Balsillie, in an email response to questions from the Star, recalled: “Evan first reached out to me to appear on his show and discuss my new role as the chair of Sustainable Development Technology Canada and the organization’s work.”
He opted not to be interviewed but recalled he told Solomon he would be happy to talk to him on background about the federal initiative. The two men agreed to get together for a drink on Wednesday, Oct. 23, to discuss Solomon’s interest in Balsillie’s work with the federal initiative and the Franklin expedition. That turned out to be the day after the Bailey-Solomon contract was signed. Solomon and Balsillie were going to be at the Writer’s Trust event in Toronto, Balsillie as a guest, Solomon as a judge.
They met at a pub across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario, where the gala was being held. Balsillie recalled that Solomon had earlier asked if he could bring a friend. That friend was Bruce Bailey, the art collector.
Balsillie and Bailey hit it off immediately. Balsillie recalled that while he and Solomon talked about a mutual love of artwork, there was no discussion that Solomon was an art broker.
Over the next two years, Balsillie purchased numerous art pieces from Bailey. Documents obtained by the Star show that Solomon was earning a commission on each sale, to a total of about $300,000 over two years. Balsillie said he paid Bailey directly for the paintings and had no idea the CBC host was taking a cut.
“I was not aware of any commissions paid to Mr. Solomon as a result of my purchases from Mr. Bailey,” Balsillie recalls, adding he had no knowledge that Solomon was involved in the transactions.
Documents, including invoices, emails and statements relating to the sales transactions, reveal Bailey paid Solomon his commissions by sending payments to Four T Productions, a personal company run out of Solomon’s Rockcliffe home.
Many of those payments were by bank transfer but one email from Solomon to Bailey states “thanks for the Anka envelope.” The Star asked Solomon if that was a reference to a cash payment and, if so, was it disclosed to the Canada Revenue Agency. Solomon has not yet replied to those questions.
Around the same time, Solomon was trying to sell Bailey’s art to Mark Carney, who in 2013 left the Bank of Canada to become governor of the Bank of England. Carney has been a guest of Solomon’s on CBC over the years, the last time in April, 2014.
In the fall of 2014, Solomon was successful in brokering a deal for Bailey to sell a $22,500 painting to Carney, who lives in England. A previous attempt in the summer to sell another painting had fallen through.
The sale was finalized on Dec. 18, 2014.
“Good news my partner,” Solomon wrote in an email to Bailey. “We just sold the Kim Dorland to Mark Carney! A great client and his circle is very wide. He liked our 10 per cent off!”
Carney would not speak with the Star. His spokesman at the Bank of England said that “Governor Carney has no enduring professional relationship with Mr. Solomon. He never comments on matters relating to his personal life.”
The five-by-six-foot oil painting by Dorland, an artist from Alberta, was originally priced at $25,000. Bailey agreed to reduce the price to Carney by 10 per cent because Carney and Solomon were friends.
Solomon, in an email to Bailey, noted Carney has a “super sensitive” position in England and Carney had advised him that he had to be very “discreet” about this purchase. Solomon provided Bailey with Carney’s home address for shipping and Bailey handled those arrangements.
In another email, in December 2014 after the Carney deal, Solomon reiterated that Carney could help them access the “highest power network in the world.” Solomon concluded by saying “contacts for other buyers — Doig size — will be in the offing.”
Solomon’s reference to “Doig size” was in connection with the works of Peter Doig, a Scottish artist who spent most of his early years in Canada and now lives in Trinidad. Doig’s paintings have been rising in value and by March this year one would sell for almost $26 million (U.S.) at an auction in New York.
Another Doig painting was sold to Balsillie earlier this year for an undisclosed amount that a source said is “in the millions.” Balsillie would not reveal the price.
That deal, in February, led to a bitter dispute between Solomon and Bailey, which was resolved last week by way of a confidential settlement. Documents obtained by the Star show that Solomon wanted a 10-per-cent commission on the sale, but given the high price fetched by the painting Bailey wanted to pay a lower commission rate.
According to emails between Bailey and Solomon, Bailey was prepared to pay Solomon $200,000 as a “finder’s fee on this one-time transaction to make the deal happen.” A source close to the deal said Bailey paid one-half of that amount before the dispute broke out.
However, Solomon wrote to Bailey on Feb. 19 saying he was owed $1,070,000 as a “commission” for brokering the sale of the Doig between Bailey and Balsillie.
Both men hired lawyers and a settlement was reached this week. The terms of the settlement are confidential.
According to emails sent by Solomon to Bailey, Solomon had also tried unsuccessfully in the summer of 2014 to sell a $15,000 painting to the departing Belgium ambassador to Canada.
The Solomon-Bailey contract also refers to Toronto businessman Reza Satchu.
Satchu told the Star that Solomon is a close university friend of his, but they have no art dealing.
“I was not aware of the contract,” Satchu said. “I have not bought any art from Evan or from any of his relationships.”
Kevin Donovan can be reached at (416) 312-3503 or kdonovan@thestar.ca
 

ndrwrld

TRIBE Member
got caught on monday lying to reporters, then backtracked and said yeah, i did sell art, but not anymore.
is Doug Ford his media agent ?
( pretty sure Evan hasn't been fired yet...just taken off the air )
 

I_bRAD

TRIBE Member
Clearly the problem is the overpaid unions. wonder what kind of commission you get on Ontario Hydro shares
 
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Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
A news person? fake?


I thought he was good at what he does. Plus, he gave me some good advice as a younger man.

The advice was not art related.
 

Klubmasta Will

TRIBE Member
It must suck to have reporters digging through your emails to find dirt. I do not believe there is anything illegal about receiving an undisclosed referral fee, except in certain industries (perhaps real estate) that are regulated by statute. That said, his "friends" that bought the art have a reason to be pissed, perhaps, that he profited off them without their knowledge.

Then again, if the buyers were happy with their purchases and the seller was happy to pay a fee for the introduction, where is the harm? There is no victim here at all, unless one argues that his neutrality as a reporter was influenced by his wanting to close a sale.

Has it been disclosed how the Star got a copy of this guy's emails?
 

I_bRAD

TRIBE Member
Would freedom of information cover CBC emails? Smart enough to make thousands on an art transaction, not smart enough to know not to use your work email for personal purposes!

So I would assume that folks that might pay a million dollars commission as part of an art transaction might be the same kind of folks that might be working behind the scenes to ensure the correct political party is in power. Getting the guy who asks the tough questions fired from CBC would probably be a pretty worthwhile endeavor I'd think.
 
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alexd

Administrator
Staff member
I do not believe there is anything illegal about receiving an undisclosed referral fee, except in certain industries (perhaps real estate) that are regulated by statute.
I suspect his contract with the CBC says he can't be selling stuff to guests on his show, and/or have business transactions going on with his guests that aren't disclosed during the interviews with the guests.

It would be interesting to see if people who didn't buy art from him pop up and claim they got unfavorable coverage on P&P, although for the most part he seemed to fluff up all his guests - at least when I last watched the show a few years ago.
 

Ho||yw0oD

TRIBE Member
He has violated the code of ethics, acting out on private interests that can or would have interfered with his professional interests. If he was transparent about the commission and declared the potential conflict of interest with CBC, then this whole thing would be aboveboard.

But by concealing his own financial interests in these art dealings, he endangered the entire professional network built up on CBC's behalf. At best, people would not respect Solomon. At worst, they would avoid working with him in a professional capacity. Neither of these should be acceptable to the CBC.

Undeniably these actions have hurt the CBC core brand when it was already weakened by the Ghomeshi and Lang incidents (even though the latter was found to be void of any wrongdoing).
 

Klubmasta Will

TRIBE Member
^ I get that the CBC is using its Code of Ethics to justify the firing, but the only quoted provision is one stating that employees "must not use their positions to further their personal interests" which is incredibly vague and something that every single CBC on-air personality has likely violated. Anyone who took a paid speaking engagement, wrote a book, sat on a board of directors, marshalled a parade, picked up a girl/guy who recognized him/her, got free hockey tickets, etc. is guilty of violating that provision.

As long as his reporting has been fair and unbiased, I am not outraged by the fact that he introduced his art dealer friend to a couple of rich guys that he had interviewed who ended up buying art, resulting in his receiving a referral fee. I could understand that his "friends" might be pissed, but if they are happy with the art they purchased and the price they paid, then there is no victim in this scenario. Again, this is all assuming his reporting has been unbiased. If there has been any bias in his reporting, then he should be fired without question.

More dirt would be found on most people if all their personal emails were revealed.

I prefer media shaming when there are actual victims involved.
 

alexd

Administrator
Staff member
On a side note, I find it interesting that journalists are now going after each other. Rarely did this happen before.

I remember conversations with print journalists from the Star and Globe many years ago and them mentioning how they really disliked Solomon - they mentioned this to me without any prompting at all which I found odd at the time. Since I don't know him I couldn't comment, but even though these print people were bitchy and resentful about him, I don't think they would have gone investigating to find ways to bring him down.

These days journalists, especially CBC journalists, seem to be fair game for other journalists.
 

DJ Vuvu Zela

TRIBE Member
^ I get that the CBC is using its Code of Ethics to justify the firing, but the only quoted provision is one stating that employees "must not use their positions to further their personal interests" which is incredibly vague and something that every single CBC on-air personality has likely violated. Anyone who took a paid speaking engagement, wrote a book, sat on a board of directors, marshalled a parade, picked up a girl/guy who recognized him/her, got free hockey tickets, etc. is guilty of violating that provision.

As long as his reporting has been fair and unbiased, I am not outraged by the fact that he introduced his art dealer friend to a couple of rich guys that he had interviewed who ended up buying art, resulting in his receiving a referral fee. I could understand that his "friends" might be pissed, but if they are happy with the art they purchased and the price they paid, then there is no victim in this scenario. Again, this is all assuming his reporting has been unbiased. If there has been any bias in his reporting, then he should be fired without question.

More dirt would be found on most people if all their personal emails were revealed.

I prefer media shaming when there are actual victims involved.
agree with all of this.

I watch power and politics semi-regularly. I thought he was a competent host, and played devil's advocate to almost all of his guests, trying to get them to respond to critics of their policy regardless of the party.

it's hard to see why CBC frowns on his art dealings and yet have allowed public speaking gigs. i'd rank getting paid by corporations more troublesome than a commission from a private art sale.

i'd have a bigger issue if he wasn't declaring the money as income ($300,000 is a lot of dough). that's the more interesting angle to me, and perhaps the CBC is firing him because they fear or have knowledge of that?
 
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praktik

TRIBE Member
For me I'd say the whole narrative makes him look douchey.

You kind of want someone who demonstrates that - sure - they can hob nob with the rich and powerful, but they're still distinct *from* the rich and powerful and can put their feet to the fire. To points above, Evan did attempt to do so in many of his interviews, and I never really had a problem with him hosting the show as others did (but I still miss Don Newman's "welcome to the broooooadcast" SO MUCH!!)

However, the way this story is playing Evan comes off looking like a desperate wanna-be co-member of the power elite, trying to ingratiate himself in the right circles and getting caught up in venal debates over astronomical commissions in a shitty way.

So this would affect me as a viewer going forward, just seeing Evan onscreen I would say "DOUCHE" to myself every time.

Its really about image IMO, and CBC is totally right to let him go. There's a big enough stable more than a few others could take it over...
 

Sal De Ban

TRIBE Member
Why didn't end his contract and make the art thing his main job?

As soon as you realized you could make 300k on a single deal, wouldn't you have been like, "smell ya later cbc"?
 
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He has violated the code of ethics, acting out on private interests that can or would have interfered with his professional interests. If he was transparent about the commission and declared the potential conflict of interest with CBC, then this whole thing would be aboveboard.

But by concealing his own financial interests in these art dealings, he endangered the entire professional network built up on CBC's behalf. At best, people would not respect Solomon. At worst, they would avoid working with him in a professional capacity. Neither of these should be acceptable to the CBC.

Undeniably these actions have hurt the CBC core brand when it was already weakened by the Ghomeshi and Lang incidents (even though the latter was found to be void of any wrongdoing).
I think this is the heart of it - he didn't disclose the art dealing side job and used his job with the CBC to piggy back on it.

Most employers frown on having their client lists used by their employees for their own personal gain - where I work, it's very explicit that if we have any outside of work business dealings, we shouldn't be courting people that are clients of ours. If they come to you, fine, but you seeking them out is a big no-no. With Solomon, he had access to a lot of potential clients and went ahead with it. His using code names in e-mails really didn't help his case, as it comes across pretty deceptive and shady to your employer and implies that he knew he was breaking the rules.

With the CBC being constantly scrutinized, especially after the whole Ghomeshi fiasco, they might be overreacting, but then again, I think they're trying to avoid giving any more reasons for cutbacks in funding.
 
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Boss Hog

TRIBE Member
I think this is the heart of it - he didn't disclose the art dealing side job and used his job with the CBC to piggy back on it.
According to today's "The National", he had reported it.

I don't get this, I really think it rides the fine line of ethics. CBC seems to be overreaching on covering their own ass at the expense of cutting it off. Unless there's other information we're not hearing about..
 

praktik

TRIBE Member
Still - could any of us imagine Don Newman being anywhere NEAR anything like this?

To borrow a common phrase on this show "the optics" suck - and Don Newman had too much integrity to ever stoop this low, rules and regs be damned.

If we forget the past maybe Evan can look like a victim, but compare him to the past - and he looks like a douche.
 
According to today's "The National", he had reported it.

I don't get this, I really think it rides the fine line of ethics. CBC seems to be overreaching on covering their own ass at the expense of cutting it off. Unless there's other information we're not hearing about..
There's a lot of conflicting reports on whether he did or not. If he did report it, then why use code names with e-mail?

The other part of this that really stinks is the kind of relationship that this could breed between the Canadian media and Canadian politicians - it comes off like the early days in British Politics before Margaret Thatcher got into power, or something that you'd expect from the Toronto Sun with Ezra Levant or Anthony Furey
 
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