Unilingual Kevin O'Leary urged to join Conservative race before French debate
Published Tuesday, January 3, 2017 12:46PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 3, 2017 1:51PM EST
A Conservative leadership candidate is trying to pressure unilingual celebrity investor Kevin O'Leary to jump into the race now - ahead of the party's French-language debate.
O'Leary has spent much of the past year discussing whether he'll run to lead the party that's now the Official Opposition, drawing a great deal of media attention due to his high-profile in Canada and the U.S. Polls suggest he would be a popular option if he entered the race.
But Andrew Scheer, the MP for Regina-Qu'Appelle and one of the contenders for the Conservative leadership, said in a news release Tuesday that O'Leary needs to "fish or cut bait."
"It is not acceptable to stall or delay in order to avoid the French-language debate," Scheer said in a press release.
"I believe that he owes it to all French speaking Conservatives to participate in the French language debate."
O'Leary is from Montreal, but doesn't speak French. Initially, he suggested it wouldn't be a problem because voters would support his economic policies. He has since softened to say he would try to become conversant in the language.
It’s not unheard of for politicians to improve their second-language skills after taking a party leadership. Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper dramatically improved his French after winning the party’s leadership in 2004.
All official candidates have to participate in a French debate in Quebec City on Jan. 17, or risk paying a penalty out of their compulsory compliance fees. The existing candidates struggled through a bilingual debate in Moncton last month, with some faring better than others.
Last month, O'Leary launched an exploratory committee that includes experienced Conservative insiders like Marjory LeBreton, a former senator, and former Ontario premier Mike Harris. O'Leary also held an information session near Parliament Hill last month to meet with MPs.
The bombastic businessman has said there's no point to entering the race while there are so many contestants, and suggested he'd enter following the Dec. 31 deadline for the $50,000 compliance fee, which was expected to force several candidates from the race. Only one dropped out, however, leaving 13 people in the running.
The compliance fee is in addition to the $50,000 entrance fee.
Scheer isn't the only Conservative leadership candidate to have pushed O'Leary on his lack of French. Last month, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier suggested that it's not sufficient to try to learn both official languages in time for the 2019 federal election, and that the Conservatives will never win if they're led by someone who doesn't speak French.
In his release, Scheer pointed out Quebec was the only province where the Conservatives increased their seat total in 2015.
"We have a tremendous opportunity to build our support here. It's vitally important that every leadership candidate is in Quebec for the debate, speaking French and showcasing our Conservative principles," Scheer said.
O'Leary's spokeswoman directed CTVNews.ca to O'Leary's Twitter account, which sent a cheeky response to Scheer.
"Thanks for the support Andrew! I'm currently exploring whether I should [run]. Go to http://www.olearyforcanada.ca if you think I should join the race."