OTTAWA -- Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary got personal Friday, describing a harrowing childhood ordeal that he says shaped his attitude to financial security, as he pitched a Toronto business crowd on his economic plan.

O'Leary described fleeing with his mother and brother to Europe after his birth father threatened to take away the two children. His mother had sole custody following their split, and the family had moved to Illinois from Montreal with her new husband.

"The trip required cashing in almost all of [my stepfather] George's and my mother's emergency savings," O'Leary said in a speech to the Empire Club.

"After waiting for weeks in a foreign hotel room with two small children, my mother broke down. I will never forget my mother's fear, the look on her face when she finally realized that eventually the money would run out and she might lose her children."

O'Leary said his birth father died of a heart attack -- at age 37 -- before he attempted the trip to Illinois.

The precarious financial situation had left his mother in a panic, he said. That panic "moved through my bloodstream, it changed my DNA forever... my passion for giving access to financial freedom to my family was sown in perpetuity."

The celebrity businessman went on to lay out his economic plan should he be chosen as the next Conservative Party leader and then elected prime minister.

O'Leary says he would cut corporate and personal taxes, and introduce federal taxpayer protection legislation so no Canadian has to spend more than 50 per cent of their salaries on combined federal and provincial income taxes. He says he would use federal equalization payments as leverage to ensure provincial governments don't increase their taxes to take up additional space if he cuts federal taxes.

O'Leary also promised to cancel the capital gains tax for those who reinvest the gains into a company with at least 51 per cent of its assets and employees in Canada.

The apparent leader in the Conservative race pledged to speed up immigration in key sectors, determined in collaboration with CEOs and industry experts, recruit top talent for the party, prioritize infrastructure investments that drive growth, and repeal two regulations for every new one introduced.

On natural resource projects, O'Leary vowed that projects of national importance won't be "delayed by global protest groups and Hollywood celebrities." He didn't say how, however, and a spokesman for his campaign could only say that those projects would be prioritized.

"Kevin is committed to ensuring that he listens to the wishes of Canadians to ensure that Canadian infrastructure projects can move forward," Ari Laskin wrote in an email to

"While he cannot keep 'committed activists' away, he can ensure that he listens to the wishes of Canadians, the people directly [affected] by Canadian infrastructure projects."