02/09/2017 02:18 EST | Updated 02/09/2017 03:47 EST

Stephen McNeil To Kevin O'Leary: Stick To Debating Your Fellow Conservatives

This comes after O'Leary sent an "open letter" to the premier.

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says Conservative leadership hopeful Kevin O'Leary should be focused on debating issues with his fellow Tories, rather than attacking him in an "open letter."

McNeil was responding to the letter, posted Wednesday on O'Leary's Facebook page, in which the reality TV star slammed the Liberal premier for the state of the province's economy.

O'Leary said he spoke to many Nova Scotians about the poor economy when he was in Halifax last weekend for a debate.

He said the province is being strangled by high taxes and policies that discourage natural gas and oil exploration.

But McNeil pointed Thursday to a number of growth areas, including an increase in the province's population to an all-time high last year and a hike in exports.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Tory leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary: Sworn enemies or poker buddies? Neither? (Photo: The Canadian Press)

"Canadian institutions are seeing us as a rising star in the east when it comes to growing our population and our province and our economy," said McNeil after a cabinet meeting.

"Mr. O'Leary needs to be debating issues with Conservatives, those that will actually have a chance to vote on his future. Those are the people he should be dealing with."

O'Leary's Facebook post had racked up about 3,900 likes in 24 hours.

O'Leary is an entrepreneur and a star of the U.S.-based "Shark Tank" reality show who spends much of the year in Boston.

'Putting you on notice'

His Conservative leadership campaign has been likened to U.S. President Donald Trump's for a no-holds-barred speaking style that often dominates media coverage of the race.

"I reach millions of Canadians each week through the media, and I have promised all of them that I will shine the light on mediocrity and incompetence in government when I see it," O'Leary said in the letter.

"So, I am putting you on notice. It's time you start doing a better job for the people in Nova Scotia. If you don't? Well you can ask your friend Kathleen Wynne what happened to her poll numbers when I started writing letters."

O'Leary called the Ontario premier "incompetent" after she criticized his comments on Ontario's auto sector. He slammed Wynne over Ontario's more than $300-billion debt and suggested she call a snap election.

He had also targeted Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, a New Democrat, before he formally joined the race.

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