OTTAWA ‚ÄĒ Calgary Conservative leadership hopeful Deepak Obhrai laughed and laughed when he heard Kevin O‚ÄôLeary tell his supporters they should put him down as number two on their preferential ballot.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm still in a daze and in a shock,‚ÄĚ he told HuffPost Canada Wednesday. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm still trying to understand what happened yesterday,‚ÄĚ he said, still laughing.
Deepak Obhrai speaks during the final leadership debate on April 26 in Toronto. (Photo: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Obhrai said his campaign has been focused on taking the Conservative party forward ‚ÄĒ by reaching out to new Canadians and millennials ‚ÄĒ and O‚ÄôLeary seems to recognize that.
In a video posted Tuesday,O‚ÄôLeary ‚ÄĒ who is campaigning for Quebec MP Maxime Bernier after suspending his own campaign ‚ÄĒ describes how he is filling out his own preferential ballot for the contest.
‚ÄúJust for the fun of it, I‚Äôm going to make a second choice, because I want to support the democratic process,‚ÄĚ O‚ÄôLeary said. ‚ÄúAnd I‚Äôll tell you who that is going to be, you‚Äôre not going to believe it. But here it happens, I‚Äôm putting Deepak in as number two. Why? I love the guy, I really do. What a trooper.
‚ÄúIs he going to win? No. But does he deserve my second vote? Yes. I just want to appreciate the work that he has done for such a long time for the Conservative party and he is fun to work with.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI just love him.‚ÄĚ‚ÄĒ Kevin O‚ÄôLeary on Deepak Obhrai
Obhrai‚Äôs eldest daughter, Priti, who is helping manage his campaign, was the first to tell him he had to watch O‚ÄôLeary‚Äôs video.
‚ÄúAt the part where he says, ‚ÄėMy second choice is Deepak Obhrai,‚Äô there was a moment of stunned silence,‚ÄĚ Obhrai recounted. ‚ÄúIt took a while to think. I couldn‚Äôt stop laughing.‚ÄĚ
O‚ÄôLeary goes on to say that he has met all the Tory leadership candidates ‚ÄĒ great men and women who will be important for the party‚Äôs future ‚ÄĒ but Obhrai has a ‚Äúspecial place‚ÄĚ in his heart: ‚ÄúI just love him.‚ÄĚ
Obhrai has been one of the celebrity businessman‚Äôs fiercest critics, saying last year that the party didn‚Äôt need a ‚Äúso-called white knight.‚ÄĚ He complained O‚ÄôLeary talked ‚Äúnonsense‚ÄĚ and said the TV personality didn‚Äôt have the ‚Äúfoggiest idea‚ÄĚ what the Conservative party stood for.
Obhrai also suggested O‚ÄôLeary would be better fit to run as NDP leader and, earlier this year, challenged him to a one-on-one debate, which O‚ÄôLeary declined.
The Calgary MP said he made those comments when O‚ÄôLeary was being ‚Äúvery derogatory‚ÄĚ towards party members and members of Parliament. But after watching how O‚ÄôLeary ran his campaign, Obhrai admits he attracted an audience, connected with Canadians, and helped build a stronger party.
The Conservative leadership candidates laugh during a debate in Saskatoon, on Nov. 6, 2016. (Photo: Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)
Queen‚Äôs University associate professor Jonathan Rose told HuffPost Canada that O‚ÄôLeary‚Äôs endorsement of Obhrai could be either strategic or intentional.
‚ÄúThere is two ways of doing it: one is to say, ‚ÄėDon‚Äôt vote.‚Äô The other is to say, ‚ÄėVote for someone who is not going to affect the outcome,‚Äô‚ÄĚ said Rose. That would be ‚Äúalso kind of an insult to Deepak. It‚Äôs telling him his votes don‚Äôt matter.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúIf it is intentional, then we go by what he said [that O‚ÄôLeary likes Obhrai as a person].‚ÄĚ
Obhrai dismissed the suggestion that O‚ÄôLeary is only urging his 35,000 supporters to mark the veteran MP second on the ballot to lessen the chance of another candidate displacing Bernier, his preferred choice.
‚ÄúNo, I don‚Äôt think so. I think, at the end of the day, the message that I am giving out is resonating right across the country,‚ÄĚ he responded. ‚ÄúIt seems that he recognized that, that was the strength, that is where the party needed to go.‚ÄĚ
Wooing non-traditional supporters
Both, he and O‚ÄôLeary, are trying to build a more inclusive and diverse party, and both went after non-traditional supporters, he added.
‚ÄúI‚Äôll be very blunt with you, people have left us and are still not willing to come back,‚ÄĚ he said, referring to Canadians who feel excluded by messages perceived to be anti-immigrant.
Obhrai and Bernier have few policy overlaps: Obhrai wants to spend more public money training nurses, while Bernier wants to eliminate the federal government‚Äôs role in health care.
But the Calgary MP suggests what will matter is having a majority of caucus supporting the new leader.
‚ÄúThis is what happened with [former Canadian Alliance leader] Stockwell Day. Caucus was not with him and he had to resign.‚ÄĚ
Bernier has little caucus support, for now. Competitors Erin O‚ÄôToole and Andrew Scheer have the most support from their colleagues.