Trump Looms Large as O’Leary Joins Canadian Conservative Race
By Josh Wingrove, Bloomberg News
Outspoken TV personality Kevin O’Leary has sent the race to win the job of being Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief rival in Canada further into Donald Trump territory.
O’Leary declared his candidacy for leadership of the Conservative Party on Wednesday morning, joining a field of 13 other candidates — some of whom are invoking parts of the U.S. president-elect’s insurgent messaging in a bid to distinguish themselves.
While the field includes former cabinet ministers, it’s O’Leary who has a formula and resume most akin to Trump’s. Long on name recognition after years as a broadcaster while thin on party ties, O’Leary is an outspoken business figure who has appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank with Mark Cuban.
He is styling himself as the candidate to stand up to the incoming president. “With the election of Donald Trump to our south, Canada’s largest trading partner is headed by a businessman with an aggressive strategy that could hurt the Canadian economy,” O’Leary said in an online statement Wednesday. “Trudeau doesn’t stand a chance, and we deserve better.”
The Conservatives are Canada’s official opposition party, holding the second-most seats in the House of Commons. They governed from 2006 to 2015, when former Prime Minister Stephen Harper stepped down as leader after being defeated by Trudeau’s centrist Liberal Party.
Before Shark Tank, O’Leary appeared on its Canadian predecessor, Dragons’ Den, in which entrepreneurs pitched ideas to him and other investors. He previously led O’Leary Funds, which was sold in 2015, and is among Canada’s foremost business television personalities with a penchant for being brash.
“Canada’s a mess, it really is,” he said in a video announcing an exploratory committee for his candidacy, where he held up a metal spatula while pledging to “scrape all that crap out” of Ottawa, the capital city. In another video released over the holidays, he wore a housecoat while using a saber to open a bottle of champagne.
He joins the leadership race the morning after a French-language debate in Quebec City, sure to fuel questions about whether his French is strong enough to lead the opposition in a bilingual country. The leadership vote will be held May 27.
Rivals invoking Trump so far include former Labor Minister Kellie Leitch, a physician running on values while criticizing elites and using a variation of Trump’s “drain the swamp” messaging. Her campaign is led by Nick Kouvalis, a strategist known best for working with Rob Ford, the former Toronto mayor who admitted to smoking crack cocaine in office.
‘Lock Her Up’
Steven Blaney, who has called for restrictions on certain Muslim face coverings, and Brad Trost, who has made his own “lock her up” calls in reference to a female Canadian politician, are also evoking Trump.
Maxime Bernier, a libertarian pledging major policy overhauls who once resigned as foreign minister after leaving classified documents with his then-girlfriend, has criticized Leitch as a “karaoke version of Donald Trump.” Bernier — targeted in Tuesday’s debate by Leitch, in a signal that he is a front-runner — is among those who have steered clear of a Trump message. Others include former House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, and former Harper cabinet ministers Erin O’Toole and Lisa Raitt.
Raitt has already emerged as O’Leary’s biggest critic. She has launched a StopKevinOLeary.com website to derail him, arguing “his past comments will keep Justin Trudeau in power.”