#onpoli newsletter: Catching up with Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath

A Q&A with our podcast hosts
By Eric Bombicino - Published on June 18, 2019
Two men stand in front of some computer monitors
Any suggestions for our intrepid #onpoli hosts? (Matthew O'Mara)

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Hello, #onpoli newsletter readers:

This week we are taking a week off from the podcast to prep our last episode of the season.

In the meantime, why not catch up on the episodes you haven’t yet heard? They’re all right here.

In this week’s newsletter, we have a Q&A with #onpoli podcast hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath. What did they learn while working together on a podcast for the first time? Any surprises? And what are they doing with their summer break? (Hint: One of our hosts never truly stops working, while the other knows a hammock is where a summer vacation is best spent.)

Man sitting on deck chair while typing at laptop computer.
Steve Paikin has written several books while on summer break at the cottage.


Steve, you’ve wanted to do a podcast for a long time. Why?

Steve Paikin: As much as I’ve loved the long-form journalism we do on The Agenda, I’ve begun to feel that there are even longer, more in-depth interviews I’d like to be doing. Ones that don’t focus on policy, but rather delve into the personal stories. Why does someone go into politics, despite what the public feels about politics? How does that journey go? It’s never a straight line. I’ve written several books about this stuff, but I felt it was time to explore more in the newest, most explosively growing format, namely podcasting.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned hosting a podcast for two seasons now?

John Michael McGrath: Speaking — the simple act of saying words, one after the other, in a way others find interesting — is hard. I really think it only started to come naturally-ish to me this season, and Eric [Bombicino, our podcast producer] would say I still needed lots of takes to get it right.

What has the experience been like for you, Steve?

SP: The conversations have been a revelation. One day at Queen’s Park, the president of the Treasury Board of cabinet, Peter Bethlenfalvy, said to me, “I listened to your podcast about [Finance Minister] Vic Fedeli. Heck, I sit beside the guy in question period every day, and I didn’t know any of the info I learned in your interview.” That’s exactly the reaction I was hoping for. We see these folks on our TV sets every day, yet we know precious little about what’s behind all those glib 10-second clips for the news. That’s what these interviews are for.

One takeaway from the work you did this past season, John?

JMM: I really wasn’t sure when I pitched the idea for “explainer” episodes (for example, How a Bill Becomes Law) that they would end up being received as well as they have. I had a theory: that a lot of people were really just starting to pay attention to provincial politics with the election of Doug Ford, and that they could use some help getting up to speed. But I’m happy to see these episodes seem to actually be reaching people.

What are your plans for summer?

JMM: I’m taking a week off in July, when I hope to turn off my email and Twitter and not think about provincial politics for a while. My family’s cottage has a hammock — I intend to get re-acquainted with it.

What themes are you hoping to explore for the #onpoli podcast and newsletter this fall?

JMM: I’d love to find some podcast-accessible way to talk about the fight between Queen’s Park and Ottawa over carbon pricing — but there’s only so much you can ask of your listeners.

What about you, Steve? You’re taking a break this summer and we’ll re-group for another season of #onpoli this fall. Season 3 will have the backdrop of a federal election. Any issues you really want to explore?

SP: First of all, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the “break” I’m getting this summer! I’ll be reading books for future interviews for The Agenda. I’ll be writing columns for TVO.org. I may be writing another book, too. So, summer break? Not quite! But to your question. At the risk of sounding Ontario-centric, the reality is, whoever wins Ontario wins the country. We’re the biggest prize. So our focus on the federal scene through an Ontario lens will be another way for us to offer relevant information to our audience. Let me put the question to those reading this: what do you want to know about Battleground Ontario as the October election approaches?

Two men standing in front of some computer monitors.


If you have a suggestion for Steve or John Michael, please write to us at onpolitics@tvo.org. We’ll be dropping in to your inbox again soon. Thanks for reading, the #onpoli team.


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