Kevin O'Leary, Canada's 'Trump,' Mulling Run For Conservative Leadership

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Move over, Donald Trump? Another rich, abrasive businessman who moonlights as a reality TV star and evidently believes money is the best way to influence power is mulling a jump into politics.

Canadian business mogul Kevin O'Leary, perhaps best known as a former panelist on CBC's "Dragons' Den" and the American version, "Shark Tank" on ABC, told CBC News he's thinking about running for federal Conservative leader.

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Kevin O'Leary attends the Disney ABC Winter TCA Tour in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo: CP)

O'Leary made waves this week by offering to invest $1 million in Canadian energy companies if Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley steps down. Notley responded by reminding the chairman of O'Leary Funds that she doesn't take marching orders from "wealthy businessmen."

He shot back in television and radio interviews by saying Notley wasn't "qualified to manage Canada's number one resource" and was full of "bankrupt ideas."

'Donald Trump of Canada'

O'Leary's stunt reminded many of when Trump offered to donate $5 million to charity in 2012 if U.S. President Barack Obama publicly shared his college transcripts and passport records.

Trump is now offending his way through Republican presidential primaries — and just might win the nomination. On Thursday, "Dragons' Den" investor Arlene Dickinson told CBC Calgary that O'Leary's "disrespectful" offer to Notley made him the "Donald Trump of Canada."

O'Leary told CBC's Susan Lunn he figured people may be wondering why he isn't running for office if he can "be such a critic."

The businessman said he's thinking about it, adding his top focus would be on the economy.

"Every word that comes out of a politician's mouth, including mine, should I elect to go for this, is how does it create the next incremental job," O'Leary said. "That's what I care about."

'I am not Donald Trump'

In a later interview with The Canadian Press, O'Leary said that while he recognizes how Trump works the media — "and you can certainly claim I am trying to do the same" — he is not like the brash Republican.

"I am not Donald Trump," he said. "I'm a Lebanese-Irish, I don't build walls (and) I am very proud of the society we're building in Canada — I think it is the envy of the planet."

""I am looking at this saying, like everybody else, 'This is interesting, 18 months from now the country is going to have make a decision about who should be the opposition, I think I could be very effective there.'"

He suggested he was interested in running, in part, because of the amount of Canadian graduate students who say they need to head south of the border to make their money.

The Tory leadership race is still at least 18 months away, which he called an "eternity" in politics.

"I am looking at this saying, like everybody else, 'This is interesting, 18 months from now the country is going to have make a decision about who should be the opposition, I think I could be very effective there,'" he said.

Former Harper ministers consider runs

Former Conservative cabinet ministers Tony Clement and Kellie Leitch are both reportedly putting together campaign teams. Ex-cabinet minister Peter Mackay, as well as current Tory MPs Lisa Raitt and Jason Kenney, are also rumoured to be interested.

Quebec Tory Maxime Bernier told The Huffington Post Canada in December he's "testing the waters" and will run if he thinks there's a path to victory.

Other top tier contenders — Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, ex-cabinet minister James Moore — have publicly said they aren't interested.

O'Leary, 61, wouldn't be the first political neophyte to run for Tory leader if he enters the race.

Former Magna International executive Belinda Stronach ran for the Tory leadership in 2004, finishing second to Stephen Harper.

With no prior elected political experience, Brian Mulroney leaned on a record of success in business when he was selected leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 1983. He went on to win two majority governments.

Controversial comments

But for O'Leary, entering the race will undoubtedly force him to defend past controversial comments.

While discussing a global poverty report on "The Lang and O'Leary Exchange" in 2014, the businessman said it was "fantastic news" the combined wealth of the world's 3.5 billion poorest people was equal to the wealth of the richest 85 people.

A YouTube clip of the moment has been viewed more than 1.6 million times.


With files from The Canadian Press

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