TORONTO – The Ontario Liberal government is blitzing federal Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary with a series of fact-check open letters, which a political pundit said could be part of an electoral long game.
McMaster University political science professor Henry Jacek said the Liberals know that going after O’Leary will appeal to their potential voters.
“They’re not likely to like Kevin O’Leary at all, so it doesn’t hurt at all to tell these people: ‘Kevin O’Leary doesn’t like us,”‘ he said.
“If you know your base dislikes somebody and doesn’t trust them, boom, just play that up that they’re attacking you…Going into the next election they’ll probably move it a little step more and associate the opposition leader with Kevin O’Leary.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne fired off the first open letter on Sunday, taking the former “Dragon’s Den” television personality to task for comments he had made about Ontario’s auto sector – noting it has seen nearly $2 billion in investment recently – and corporate tax rate.
O’Leary responded in kind Monday, slamming Wynne in an open letter of his own for Ontario’s more than $300-billion debt and suggesting she call a snap election at a time when her popularity is extremely low.
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid then followed up Monday, writing to O’Leary that debt-to-GDP ratio is a more important figure, and Ontario’s – about 40 per cent – is lower than Quebec’s and not too much higher than some Atlantic provinces’.
O’Leary also mentioned Ontarians’ anger over rising hydro rates in his open letter, so Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault wrote a missive Monday saying it was important to shut down coal plants and noting the government is trying to cut electricity bills.
John Duffy, a strategist who has advised Liberal campaigns, said the principle motive is to correct the record.
“Kevin O’Leary speaks with a very loud voice,” he said. “This isn’t potshots from (Conservative leadership candidate) Brad Trost. This is Kevin O’Leary. He’s famous. People listen to him.”