Written by Logan Stack
On May 27, Conservative party members are given the opportunity to shape the future of their party by electing a new leader. The race has swelled to 14 candidates, either a promising sign for the future of conservatism or a dizzying display of a party that has no clear sense of direction after over a decade with Stephen Harper at the helm. However, in the midst of a field of candidates who have devoted their lives to public service, one man has made a splash: Shark Tank alum Kevin O’Leary, a millionaire who has courageously sacrificed himself for the good of our great nation. Indeed, despite calling Boston his home just a few years ago, the man whose nickname is Mr. Wonderful has proudly touted his Canadian roots… by spending six days out of the first week of his campaign in the United States (Cullen). The Conservative Party has the opportunity to select a leader who is forward thinking, trustworthy and principled; unfortunately, Mr. Wonderful is undoubtedly not that leader.
At a most basic level, Kevin O’Leary lacks the civility and respect that a true leader should possess. He has called Prime Minister Trudeau a “surfer dude” and has pledged that should he become leader, “It’s going to be war, it’s going to be ugly, you’re going to hear a lot of bad things” (Raj). O’Leary seems more interested in using personal attacks in order to win at all costs than having honest discourse with Canadians. Elections are, ideally, a time for voters to better informed about issues; instead, a campaign with O’Leary will likely lead to a more misinformed and polarized public. Put simply, O’Leary would rather talk about himself than public policy. This is problematic because it diminishes the discourse of Canadian politics. A point of pride in Canada is that politicians may argue, but they discuss real problem and provide real solutions. That in turn allows Canadians to rally around a vision for Canada. Unfortunately, it is impossible to forge a consensus on issues if one side has no intention of discussing them. O’Leary may be electable, but Conservative members should put the health of Canadian politics over any short-term gain they foresee with the Shark Tank alum at the helm.
Nevertheless, many O’Leary supporters have justified his attack-dog style by arguing that it is necessary in order to beat the Trudeau Liberals in 2019. Many conservatives have legitimate concerns about the Liberals’ economic policy; however, if they are so convinced that Trudeau’s policies are harmful and misguided, they should be able to win an election based on reasoned arguments. Choosing Kevin O’Leary is an unintentional concession that their vision is not compelling enough to win over Canadians, and that only insults and bluster can lead them back to power. Conservatives should choose a moderate, well-spoken leader who will provide a strong case for conservative principles, rather than a man who said he was more right-wing than Attila the Hun (Bukszpan). Another oft-repeated phrase with O’Leary is that he is a “no-nonsense” candidate (Clark). He has no filter, some say. Since when did that become an asset? The point of having a filter is for a leader to think before he acts. Furthermore, being provocative is entirely different from being honest. O’Leary has a long history in the reality TV show world; his words were carefully chosen for shock value on-air and off, and he seems to have brought his character to Canadian politics.
O’Leary likes to talk about his business record as proof that he has what it takes to lead a country. However, the reality is that his record is both spotty and morally dubious. For example, his company, TLC, participated in a Merger with Mattel, a proposition that may not have occurred had they known that O’Leary’s company was shipping items they knew would be returned and reporting them as revenue. Indeed, Mattel’s earnings collapsed by 42 percent and O’Leary was fired (Livesey). In an interview, he falsely claimed that TLC was profitable before the Merger until his interview contradicted him by showing public records of the company’s losses. In another case, O’Leary started a money management firm that failed, partly because the claim he used to entice investors (that he would never “grind” investor capital) was proven to be a lie. In the same way, he launched a doomed effort to offer Canadian mortgages (Castaldo). A clear pattern begins to emerge: for someone whose claim to fame is his business acumen, the truth about O’Leary’s record leaves much to be desired.
However, if O’Leary enjoys talking about the mirage of his business successes, he bristles at any comparison to Donald Trump. After all, Donald Trump is a narcissistic businessman known for his cold-hearted reality TV show persona who had no real connection to conservatism until he jumped into the race, while O’Leary is… completely different. Those trying to differentiate the two have pointed out that O’Leary does not peddle xenophobia and dog-whistle politics; that may be the case, but Trump’s strategy was a consequence of his opportunism. A different political climate in Canada has led O’Leary down a less nationalist path, but their shared opportunistic worldview remains intact. Just like Trump, O’Leary is woefully uninformed about the process that occurs on Parliament hill; he mistakenly called it Capitol Hill, and has not shown a deep understanding of how policy is either crafted or amended to reach a consensus on pressing issues (Johnson). Just like Trump, he sees everything in economic terms; he proposed to make senate seats available to buy, placing a small profit over the integrity of Canada’s entire political system (Dehaas). Just like Trump, he understands little about what makes Canada great; he claimed that there was nothing honourable about being a warrior, dismissing conservatives’ long-held pride in Canada’s storied military history (Shah). O’Leary may have promised to bring a spatula to Ottawa, but a spatula is useless if he does not have a recipe for governing.
Kevin O’Leary may be making waves, but the Canadian ship must be careful not sink in his turbulent waters. Conservative members have the choice to elect a principled conservative with both the experience and the integrity to provide a compelling alternative to Justin Trudeau. This is not about Conservatives and Liberals; wherever you are on the political spectrum, it is important to value civility and respect above partisan gains. On this basis alone, Mr. Wonderful must not become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Written by MWR writer Logan Stack, edited by the MWR team
Bukszpan, Daniel. “Kevin O’Leary: I’m ‘slightly right of Attila the Hun’.” CNBC, http://www.cnbc.com/2014/01/14/kevin-oleary-im-slightly-right-of-attila-the-hun.html.
Castaldo, Joe. “A history of Kevin O’Leary’s spotty business record, in four deals.” Canadian Business, Rogers Media. http://www.canadianbusiness.com/blogs-and-comment/kevin-oleary-conservative-leadership-bid-business-record/.
Clark, Campbell. “Kevin O’Leary’s entry could push some contenders out of Conservative race.” The Globe and Mail, https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/kevin-olearys-entry-could-push-some-contenders-out-of-conservative-race/article33666007.
Cullen, Catherine. “O’Leary spent most of 1st week of leadership campaign in U.S.” CBC, 4 Feb. 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/kevin-oleary-leadership-campaign-1.3967543.
Dehaas, Joe. “Senate seats for sale? O’Leary says he’d consider it.” CTV News, Bell Media, http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/senate-seats-for-sale-o-leary-says-he-d-consider-it-1.3240864.
Johnson, Kelsey. “Kevin O’Leary drops in on Ottawa to visit Conservative MPs.” iPolitics, https://ipolitics.ca/2017/01/31/kevin-oleary-drops-in-on-ottawa-to-visit-conservative-mps/.
Livesey, Bruce. “The real (and shocking) story of Kevin O’Leary’s business career.” National Observer, Observer Media Group, http://www.nationalobserver.com/2016/01/26/news/real-and-shocking-story-kevin-olearys-business-career.
Raj, Althia. “Kevin O’Leary Tells Tories He Can Beat ‘Surfer Dude’ Trudeau In 2019.” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/12/12/kevin-oleary-justin-trudeau-surfer-dude-liberals_n_13587472.html.
Shah, Maryam. “Kevin O’Leary’s comments get negative reaction from Tory leadership contenders.” Toronto Sun, Postmedia, http://www.torontosun.com/2016/12/17/kevin-olearys-comments-get-negative-reaction-from-tory-leadership-contenders.