A Conservative leadership candidate is accusing Kevin O’Leary of hiding on the sidelines to avoid a French-language debate this month.
“If Kevin wants to run, it’s time to fish or cut bait,” Andrew Scheer said in a release Tuesday urging O’Leary to quit stalling and formally get in the race in time for the Jan. 17 debate in Quebec City.
O’Leary, a brash celebrity businessman and reality TV star, does not speak French. He launched an exploratory committee last month but has said he will not join the contest until others drop out.
Kevin O'Leary and Andrew Scheer. (Photo: Getty Images/The Canadian Press)
Scheer’s release noted Winnipeg doctor Dan Lindsay was the only contender to drop out last week ahead of the $50,000 compliance-fee deadline. There are still 13 candidates in the race to replace Stephen Harper as the next permanent Tory leader.
Scheer said since it is clear O’Leary is going to run, he owes it to French-speaking Conservatives to show up to the debate in two weeks.
“Quebec was the only province where the Conservative party increased its seat total in the last election,” Scheer said. “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.”
O'Leary can't speak French
Scheer, a veteran MP from Saskatchewan and former House Speaker, grew up in Ottawa and is bilingual.
Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, also considered a top tier contender, suggested last month that O’Leary’s inability to speak French was disqualifying.
"If (O'Leary) believes he can win an election without speaking a word of French, he is wrong,'' Bernier told The Canadian Press. “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.''
"Quebec was the only province where the Conservative party increased its seat total in the last election."
In a meeting with Tory MPs last month on Parliament Hill — or “Capitol Hill,” as he called it in an online video — O’Leary said he would learn French in time for the 2019 election. He also said he understands Quebec, noting how he was born in Montreal and attended McGill University.
“This is a province I know very well. Will I learn French? You’re damn right I’m going to try,” he said. “I have three years to do it.”
O’Leary has also suggested since most young Quebecers are bilingual, it’s not crucial for him to speak the language right away.
O’Leary has hinted he will join the race in February.
With files from The Canadian Press, Althia Raj