Kevin O'Leary surprises with potential campaign team assembled
Published Monday, December 12, 2016 2:48PM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 12, 2016 4:39PM EST
Kevin O'Leary held a pre-campaign event in Ottawa Monday, seeded with Conservative heavy-hitters that suggest he's seriously considering a bid for the party's leadership.
O'Leary, the chair of O'Leary Financial Group, invited Conservative MPs to a mid-day reception near Parliament Hill to meet with them and talk about the possibility of him entering the race, referring to caucus as the board of directors to the party leader.
Former Conservative senator Marjory LeBreton was among the guests. LeBreton, who retired in 2015 after spending her life in conservative politics, said she's part of a committee to explore a leadership bid by O'Leary.
"You can see that he's very seriously considering it, and I think that's good news," LeBreton said.
The former Senate government leader under Stephen Harper said she was approached within the last two weeks about the exploratory committee, and she expects they'll advise O'Leary by the end of next month on whether to run.
"We're just getting this little committee up and running," LeBreton said.
The committee includes Mike Coates, global vice chairman of Hill + Knowlton. Coates led debate team prep for Harper’s leadership bid and for three Conservative election campaigns.
The team O'Leary is assembling also includes Chris Rougier, a former Conservative Party staffer with extensive expertise in voter contact and campaign mailouts.
About 25 MPs attended the reception to speak with O'Leary. His speech drew several rounds of applause, particularly when he mentioned Liberal economic policies.
In an interview with Don Martin, host of CTV's Power Play, O'Leary said he's waiting until some of the current crop of 14 leadership contestants drop out of the race.
"I simply want to wait til the natural Darwinian forces of finance roll through their lines," O'Leary said Monday. "We can't have 15, 16, 17 people in a debate. It makes no sense. You get 20-second soundbites."
But the celebrity investor suggested he's serious about running.
"I'm in business. I don't like to waste my time. I've already invested heavily in getting the support, the infrastructure, the legal advice I need," O'Leary said.
"Do I have a name recognition problem? Don't have that problem. Do I have a money problem? Don't have that problem. What I have as a problem is too many people in the race. Why don't I wait?"
'Very large learning curve'
Ontario Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, who represents Sarnia--Lambton, says she's looking for a leader who can unite the party and balance fiscal responsibility with social compassion.
"For me the leader is not one that's just going to be concerned about the economy and creating jobs, although that's hugely, hugely important," Gladu said.
"We need somebody ... that is going to think about the veterans, the seniors, some of the issues that are out there. I haven't seen that side of Kevin, so I'll be looking to see if that's something that he will embrace."
Michelle Rempel, the MP for Calgary Nose Hill, said running a party is different from managing a company's profit and loss statements.
"You're managing people's lives and making them better," she said. "Certainly I hope that anybody who wins our leadership has that in mind."
Rempel said she's looking for a leader who can "re-inspire Canadians with a very solid vision for the country," and it's healthy for the party to have a potential candidate of O'Leary's calibre.
That said, "certainly I'd be looking to see how he's going to come up to speed on a very large learning curve in a very short period of time," Rempel said.
Earlier in the day, O'Leary shared a video in which he referred to Parliament Hill as Capitol Hill, the name the Americans have for their Congress.
Several MPs said they were worried O'Leary doesn't speak French, an ability they said a federal party leader should have.
In his Power Play interview, O'Leary said he honours the fact Canada is multicultural and has two official languages.
"Of course I'll attempt to learn how to speak French," he said.
This story has been updated to correct that LeBreton is part of the exploratory committee, not leading it.