POLITICS

Kevin O'Leary Can't Lead Tories If He Can't Speak French: Bernier

12/13/2016 06:54 EST | Updated 12/14/2016 10:16 EST

OTTAWA — Unilingual businessman Kevin O'Leary should rethink his potential run for the Conservative leadership, Maxime Bernier said Tuesday.

The Quebec-based MP and leadership candidate said the Tories will never take power if they are led by someone who can't speak French.

"If (O'Leary) believes he can win an election without speaking a word of French, he is wrong,'' said Bernier. "And I think the members of the Conservative party are conscious of this. They are conscious of the need for a leader who can speak in French to Quebecers.''

"If (O'Leary) believes he can win an election without speaking a word of French, he is wrong.'" —Maxime Bernier

O'Leary, a wealthy financier and TV personality, disagrees. On Monday, he said young Quebecers are almost all bilingual so it's not necessary for a Tory leader to speak French.

He has not officially entered the race, but has been publicly musing about it for months.

O'Leary has promised to try to learn the language by the 2019 election.

That's too late, according to Bernier.

"That's not sufficient for me,'' he said. "If we want to win the next election we have to be present all over the country. We will have three years to promote the party platform and I think we need to use these three years. You have to be bilingual as soon as you're elected leader.''

kevin o leary maxime bernier

Maxime Bernier, right, says Kevin O'Leary, left, can't be Tory leader without speaking French. (Photos: Getty, CP)

Bernier added he thinks his competitors who can't speak French will soon drop out.

Officially, 14 people are vying to replace Stephen Harper as permanent leader and only six can be considered bilingual.

Their linguistic skills — or lack thereof — were on full display last week in Moncton, N.B., during a bilingual leadership debate.

In January, candidates will face off in Quebec City in an all-French debate.

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