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Ettore Fiorani
Ettore Fiorani is a student in Criminology and Political Science at the University of Toronto.

CPC Leadership – The Case for Kevin O’Leary

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Despite not having officially announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, business magnate Kevin O’Leary is effectively in the running.

On Monday, O’Leary held a luncheon for Conservative Members of Parliament in Ottawa. At the luncheon, attended by roughly 20 Conservative Members of Parliament and Senators, O’Leary delivered a speech. Throughout his speech, O’Leary took shots at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, dubbing him “surfer dude.” He expressed frustration over the management of the economy, and said he can beat Trudeau in 2019. Can he? Right now, it’s hard to definitively answer that question. Considering Trudeau is only in his first term, that will be a daunting task, but O’Leary will shake things up more than any of the other 14 declared candidates currently in the race. And that alone makes him a top contender for the Tory leadership.

What does “Mr. Wonderful” bring to the race? While he doesn’t need an introduction as much as the other candidates, it’s worth going over O’Leary’s background first. His background differs greatly from the other candidates, and indeed other prominent politicians. That in itself is one of his potential strengths. Kevin O’Leary was born to an Irish father and a Lebanese-Canadian mother in 1954 in Montreal. After his father’s early passing, O’Leary took his mother as a source of inspiration. He often credits her with teaching him about savings, and inspiring him to make the jump into the world of business. In addition, O’Leary was inspired by seeing the frustrations and hardships a middle-class family, and even more so a single mother, often face. After studying business and years working in the world of business, O’Leary was involved in deals worth millions of dollars, if not more, by the 1990s.

As an outsider, Kevin O’Leary can appeal to people not typically interested in politics.

Other candidates in the race, like Lisa Raitt, also offer stories of working their way up in society, but O’Leary has a story of particular success. Certainly, it differs from the stories of North America’s most recently elected leaders, Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump, whom both were born in remarkably wealthy families. There is nothing wrong with being born wealthy, but O’Leary’s story does offer a stark contrast compared to the story of the man he may take on in 2019.

Moving past his success story, O’Leary is the clear choice for those who want an outsider to lead the Conservative Party. Nowadays, being an outsider quickly earns one the label of being a populist, or inevitably being compared to President-elect Trump. Indeed, the Canadian media has wasted no time in nicknaming O’Leary the ‘Canadian Trump.’ But at least right now, O’Leary hits the right spot when it comes to being an outsider. He has not commented on women and minorities like Trump has, and hasn’t tried to mimic Trump, as some have accused Kellie Leitch of doing. O’Leary’s unusual personality isn’t one that he’s come up with for politics, rather, it has been on display on TV for years.

While O’Leary has become a wealthy individual, he certainly cannot be accused of being part of the political establishment. Having spent nearly his whole life in business, he’s never held elected office. His unfamiliarity with Ottawa’s political bubble was displayed on Monday, as some journalists scoffed when he said “Capitol Hill” instead of Parliament Hill (O’Leary later corrected the slip-up, using the correct name).

As an outsider, Kevin O’Leary can appeal to people not typically interested in politics. For example, those who may know him from his time on Shark Tank and Dragons’ Den, hit reality TV shows where O’Leary and other top entrepreneurs seek to make deals with business owners who aspire to be as successful as they are. The other leadership candidates will likely struggle to have such an appeal.

Kevin O’Leary, however, is a flawed candidate, like any other candidate. He can come off as a harsh and cold businessman to some, and his opponents will undoubtedly attack him for working in America for a long time (even though there are thousands of Canadians living and working abroad). Nonetheless, O’Leary’s formidable chances come in part from how different he is from the other candidates. For one, 12 of the other 14 candidates are current or former Members of Parliament. For better or for worse, they are experienced politicians. This, coupled with O’Leary’s overshadowing name-recognition, hampers their ability to stick out of the crowd, and eventually offer a clear contrast to Trudeau in 2019. Again, for better or for worse, most of these candidates can be tied to Stephen Harper’s government. While many will hold that in a positive light, we can be sure that the opposing parties and the media will not be so kind when it comes to their records from the Harper years. It will also be difficult for the other candidates to compete with O’Leary’s persona, marked by his humour and sharpness.

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Finally, O’Leary is quite simply a smart guy with a winning mentality. After all, one does not go from being the son of immigrants to being one of Canada’s top entrepreneurs without intelligence, hard work, and dedication. Besides that, O’Leary demonstrates intelligence by knowing what he knows and recognizing what he may not know so well. On Monday, O’Leary tweeted he intends to work “WITH” the Conservative Party in his quest to change things in Ottawa. This could mean that, while O’Leary is confident about his knowledge of business and the economy, he might let others be more influential in other policy areas. Furthermore, O’Leary reportedly counts with former Senator Marjory LeBreton, an influential leader in Conservative circles, as part of his campaign team. To address the fact that he does not yet speak French, O’Leary has said he would appoint someone from Quebec as Deputy Prime Minister (a position that hasn’t existed for over 10 years), and that he will try to learn the language.

Justin Trudeau is not an unbeatable candidate. There are signs pointing to his popularity waning. He picks and chooses which pipelines he likes and which ones he doesn’t, he faces questions over lobbying, so-called cash-for access fundraisers, and foreign donations to the Trudeau Foundation. And surely, he will face more difficult choices and controversies in the years to come. However, Trudeau is popular at the moment, and no Conservative candidate can ensure that the Party will emerge victorious in 2019. Indeed, it is nearly a convention in Canadian politics that Prime Ministers are re-elected at least once. Kevin O’Leary, an unquestionably unconventional candidate, might just be the guy to buck the trend.

 

The Prince Arthur Herald

Photo Credit: YouTube, CBCNews

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