Canadian businessman and celebrity investor Kevin O’Leary has officially declared his candidacy for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership, but it comes with controversy.
O’Leary is the chair of O’Leary Financial Group and founder of O’Leary Funds, but he’s best known as the cut-throat investor on CBC’s Dragon’s Den and ABC’s Shark Tank. The announcement comes after months of speculation and criticism of current prime minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government.
Shortly after the announcement, which came on Jan. 18, 2017, O’Leary told CTV’s Your Morning that he’s focused on bringing jobs to Canadians between the ages of 18 and 35, whom he referred to as his “army of entrepreneurs,” as he feels they’ve been let down by Trudeau.
O’Leary promised to dig Canada out of the debt he said he feels Trudeau is contributing to, and emphasized using Canadian oil rather than importing oil from Saudi Arabia. O’Leary hasn’t outlined his definitive stance on immigration, which is a hot topic among Conservative leader hopefuls.
O’Leary is often compared to Donald Trump because of their similar backgrounds in business and reality television. Similar to Trump, O’Leary often communicates via social media and is known for making controversial statements, but he has an opposite stance on NATO. O’Leary said Canada is underfunding NATO and should be helping more, whereas Trump has publicly referred to NATO as “obsolete.”
The timing of O’Leary’s announcement, and his inability to speak French, has sparked controversy among Conservative leader candidates. O’Leary made the official announcement a day after the first French-speaking debate among potential Conservative leaders, which took place in Quebec City. Conservative leader hopefuls Maxime Bernier and Saskatchewan MP Andrew Scheer have criticized O’Leary for missing the debate and not being able to speak French.
According to Michael Poplyansky, a lecturer at La Cité at the University of Regina, O’Leary’s inability to communicate in French is an issue for many francophone Canadians as well. “Personally, I don’t think it’s going to work for Mr. O’Leary,” said Poplyanksy “I think the Conservatives are smart enough to know that if they want to win an election in Canada, they’ve got to have a leader who’s bilingual.”
If O’Leary were to win the Conservative leadership, Poplyansky said he can’t see himself voting for a prime minister who isn’t bilingual. Poplyansky said having a prime minster who speaks English and French promotes bilingualism. “If our prime minister isn’t bilingual, why should other Canadians become bilingual?” said Poplyansky.
Jim Farney is a political science professor at the University of Regina, and he shares some of Poplyansky's sentiments. “Under the rules of the race, for all intents and purposes, a quarter of the votes are in Quebec and not speaking French almost ranks you out of those” said Farney. A language barrier isn’t the only obstacle for O’Leary, according to Farney.
“I have trouble seeing him being successful. In part I think because he’d end up being a fairly polarizing leader, and in parliamentary politics that’s a problem,” he said.
“It’s throwing a loose cannon into an already crowded room” Farney added.
O’Leary has admitted he can’t speak French fluently, but says he’s working with a tutor. Another Conservative leadership candidate, Lisa Raitt, has launched a website called stopkevinoleary.com.
O’Leary said social media support influenced him to enter the Conservative leadership race.
The next debate is scheduled for Feb. 28, 2017 in Edmonton, Alta.