Kevin O'Leary enters Conservative leadership race: 'I'm in'
Published Wednesday, January 18, 2017 7:38AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 18, 2017 7:41PM EST
Celebrity investor Kevin O'Leary has officially declared his intentions to run for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada.
O'Leary, chair of O'Leary Financial Group and founder of O'Leary Funds, made it official Wednesday on Facebook, after months of publicly speculating about what he might do if he were prime minister.
"It starts right now," O'Leary told CTV's Your Morning, moments after the announcement online. "I'm in."
O'Leary enters the fray one day after the Conservatives' first French-language leadership debate, in which all 13 other candidates participated. O'Leary does not speak fluent French.
However, he says he spoke French up until the age of seven, when he was a boy growing up in Montreal. Now he says he's trying to immerse himself in the language so it will "come back" to him. "I've just got to get my game back," he said.
He added that the Conservative caucus of Quebec helped with his decision to learn French. "(They) reminded me where I came from," he said.
O'Leary says he will be fluent enough to debate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in French during the 2019 election campaign, if he wins the Tory leadership.
Supportive of gay rights, legalized marijuana
In an appearance on CTV’s Power Play, O’Leary outlined his fiscal-first plan for the Conservative Party. He said he considers himself a feminist who supports LGBT rights, access to abortion, the legalization of marijuana and assisted suicide. He repeatedly touted his business background, saying that his ability to “read a balance sheet” makes him qualified for Canada’s top political post.
O’Leary had tough words for Trudeau, who he called “the enemy” and accused of “destroying our country.” He described the prime minister’s economic policy as “insane” and repeatedly referred to the next federal election as “the exorcism in 2019.”
“You know who’s going to elect Kevin O’Leary? Justin Trudeau. He just has to keep doing what he’s doing, and I’ll be the next prime minister,” he said.
He added that he hopes his message will strike a chord with millennials, and he plans to reach out to younger Canadians through social media.
“I have to grow the base because the only way the Conservative Party can win is we’ve got to win back 60 per cent of those people that are 18 to 35 years old,” he said. “And I’ve told the party, if I don’t get 60 per cent of them, they can fire me, because I can’t win a majority mandate without them.”
He also defended his decision not to participate in the French language debate on Tuesday night, calling the event “incredibly bad television” that very few people watch.
“I want to debate, but you can’t do it in any language with 14 people,” he said.
O'Leary acknowledged that he's made a lot of bold remarks on various issues over the years, both as an on-air commentator in Canadian television, and as a reality TV star on investment shows such as "Shark Tank." However, he insists those remarks don't mean anything for his campaign platform. "There's 10,000 hours of things that I've said," he told CTV's Your Morning. "I expect all of them to get regurgitated. They don't mean anything. They're not policy."
In terms of policy, O'Leary said he plans to use the best ideas from his opponents for his own campaign. He says he's particularly focused on bringing jobs to young Canadians between the ages of 18-35, whom he suggested have been let down by Justin Trudeau. "That's my army of entrepreneurs."
He vowed to dig Canada out of the debt Trudeau is racking up, and condemned the efforts of Finance Minister Bill Morneau as "a huge disappointment."
On energy, O'Leary said he wants to lean more on Canadian oil, rather than importing oil from Saudi Arabia for $12 billion.
He also criticized Trudeau for "charging ahead" with his own economic policies, instead of preparing to react based on the big changes coming to the United States under president-elect Donald Trump.
Identity politics and Trump
When asked, O'Leary did not outline his definitive position on immigration, which has become a hot-button issue in the Conservative leadership race. Instead, he repeated his intention to bring the "best ideas" of his opponents to Ottawa.
A handful of O'Leary's leadership rivals have recommended screening immigrants for "anti-Canadian values."
O'Leary instead shifted his attention to Donald Trump's aggressive immigration stance, citing his own background as an example of the value of diversity. "I'm the son of an immigrant from Ireland and from Lebanon," he said. "There are no walls in my world."
In terms of Trump, O'Leary said "we both got famous on reality television," but the similarities between the two men are superficial. "We need a leader that can actually deal with Trump," he said.
The Canadian businessman stands opposite to Trump on at least one issue, in that he says NATO needs more help from Canada. "We're underfunding that," he said. "That's not right. These are good men and women."
Trump has come out against NATO, condemning it as "obsolete."
O'Leary's candidacy holds at least one similarity to Trump's, in that that he appears eager to use social media as a driving force behind his campaign. O'Leary says his decision to run was based on social media support, and he ultimately announced his candidacy on Facebook minutes before hitting the airwaves at CTV.
He also used Twitter to respond to Tuesday night's Conservative French-language debate.
O'Leary made his candidacy official less than a week after an exploratory committee told him there was a "clear path to victory" available to him in the race.