Canadian business mogul Kevin O’Leary says he is indeed mulling a leap into the political sphere, but it’s too early to say for certain if he’ll run to replace Stephen Harper as leader of the federal Conservatives.
Rumours began swirling Wednesday that the former Dragons’ Den star and multi-millionaire could be a wild-card candidate in the upcoming race. The news came just days after O’Leary pledged to inject $1 million of his own money into Alberta’s oil sector if NDP premier Rachel Notley agreed to resign. O’Leary said he feels her leadership in the face of a struggling economy has been inadequate.
“I’m taking this opportunity to start a dialogue that every Canadian should engage in,” said the businessman in an interview with Global News on Thursday.
“I think it’s way early to discuss political races in this country that are over a year away … that’s an eternity. But the discussion we’re having about leadership, about crisis, about our economy and about the future of Canada, that’s extremely viable right now.”
The Tories, still licking their wounds after their Oct. 19 election defeat, are temporarily being led by Rona Ambrose until a new leader can be chosen in about 18 months.
O’Leary’s net worth has been pegged at approximately $300 million, and he would not be the first high-profile businessman to seek political leadership. Here in Canada, former Quebecor CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau won the Parti Québécois’ top job handily last year, but O’Leary is perhaps most closely aligned with another mogul south of the border. Far from being offended by increasing comparisons to Donald Trump, O’Leary said he’s “really amused” by them and has admired Trump for his business sense, but he sees himself as a very different animal.
“We’ve both been involved in television and enjoyed some interesting careers there, but that’s where the similarities end,” he said. “I’m an inclusive person.”
Field widens as Raitt confirms interest
Other contenders in the eventual Conservative race include MP for Simcoe-Grey Kellie Leitch, who is considered to be the only confirmed candidate at this stage. Tony Clement and Maxime Bernier are reportedly testing the waters of their potential support. Reached by Global News on Thursday, Conservative MP Lisa Raitt confirmed she is “definitely” also interested.
Jason Kenney has long been considered an heir-apparent to Stephen Harper, but he is rumoured to be contemplating leading Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election.
Tim Powers, a political strategist and current vice chair of Summa Strategies, speculated that O’Leary may simply be sending out early signals “to see if there’s a groundswell of O’Learyomania.”
But it would be a mistake to try and model his approach on Trump’s.
“(O’Leary) is a smart enough guy to know that winning a political leadership in Canada, unlike the United States, is not just about just having brash and loud opinions,” Powers said. “If that were the case, Ezra Levant might be our prime minister, and he’s not.”
O’Leary would also be incapable of using his personal fortune to fund his campaign in the same way Trump has done, he noted. Whatever the businessman decides, Powers said, the Conservative Party should welcome the headlines and discussion O’Leary has already generated.
“The Conservatives need to embrace the idea that this should be an open race … Closing doors, for a party that had the doors closed on them by Canadians, is not a wise move.”