Conservative Leadership Race: The Shark Enters the Tank

Aaron Propp - 1B Electrical
Posted on: January 28, 2017

Kevin O’Leary entered the Conservative leadership race the day after the French language debate, January 17th. He joins a crowded field of 13 other candidates including Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer. Maxime Bernier and other leadership candidates have criticized him skipping out on the French language debate, as Kevin O’Leary is unilingual with English being his only language. Bernier is quoted as saying “[i]f [O'Leary] believes he can win an election without speaking a word of French, he is wrong.” However, O’Leary has started taking French lessons and is committed to being proficient by the time the next federal election rolls around.

O’Leary is currently ahead in the polls with 27 percent of Canadians saying they would vote him, a double-digit lead over the next closest candidates, Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer.

Kevin O’Leary has often been likened to being the Canadian Donald Trump. While it is true that they are both successful businessmen and reality-TV stars, this is where the similarities end. Trump remains economically nationalistic, not opposed to imposing tariffs or ripping up free trade deals he believes don’t work in America’s favour. O’Leary on the other hand is a fiscal conservative believing in free markets, lower taxes and smaller government.

Donald Trump remains a defense hawk, keen on fighting ISIS and potentially bringing back torture to CIA interrogations. Kevin O’Leary has been quoted as saying “[t]here’s nothing proud about being a warrior. War is a desperate outcome for a human being [,]” and has instead advocated Canada take a peacekeeping stance in foreign affairs. There is no doubt though that he is riding the same wave of anti-establishment sentiment in the leadership race.

Arlene Dickinson, a former co-dragon with Kevin O’Leary on the show Dragon’s Den has a different take. Citing Kevin O’Leary refusing to resign from Shark Tank should he win the leadership, she asserts he is not fully focused on Canadians. As well, Kevin O’Leary has recently stated that he is “not a capitalist”, this despite the fact he rose to fame on a venture capitalist show.

O’Leary has been exchanging a series of open letters in the past week with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and other members of the provincial Liberal cabinet. Mostly political theatre than substantive writing, O’Leary benefits from the added publicity while Wynne benefits from picking a fight a with a conservative arch-nemesis. She has executed a similar strategy previously, writing open letters to Stephen Harper in the middle of her election campaign which has benefitted her greatly.

It is worth noting that the candidate most like Trump is Kellie Leitch. In the 2015 federal election, she was the public face of the barbaric practices hotlines, largely criticized as being ineffective and nothing but a dog whistle, as anything reported to it was already a federal crime. She has proposed making immigrants take a Canadian values test and charging them for it as well, making it a key part of her campaign platform.