01/11/2012 10:13 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Kevin O'Leary: Everything That's Wrong With the One Per Cent


I love Kevin O'Leary, or as I call him, K-OL. Now it's not the kind of love where I feel warmth, affection, or respect. It's more the kind where I'm massively grateful that someone is willing to publicly embody such a caricature of everything that's wrong with the world. Makes it really easy for me to make a point.

I turned on his new CBC reality show "Redemption Inc.," Monday night in which K-OL pits 10 recently incarcerated people against one another in a competition to win $100,000 of his own money to start a business.

This reality show formula should not be confused with either reality or redemption (both small "r," no trademark or incorporation). And before interrogating that contradiction in detail -- both in the show's concept and as it painfully plays out in it's first hour -- let's look at the big picture.

I woke up to the following headline yesterday morning: "Cuts to grants reach $66 million... leaves university hospitals 'in shock' and fearing further losses." And I thought about the last twenty years of Canadian corporations demanding (and receiving) more and more tax cuts until social programs are starved and all of society's wealth is consolidated in the hands of a tiny minority of Canadians.

So globally, we've created a world where, as Linda McQuaig points out, one hedge fund manager is worth 82,000 nurses. A world that has inspired millions of people globally to throw their support behind the Occupy movement -- where the 99 per cent who are increasingly living in poverty and turning to crime are beginning to demand justice from the one per cent who are holding all the wealth.

This one per cent is often very visible in hospitals and universities. Their names are plastered on wards where patients wait for treatment from over-worked staff and on buildings where students pay more than ever to learn in over-crowded classrooms. It's a great set-up. The one per cent take their tax money back from public institutions, and then get lauded for "donating" a fraction of what's needed to whatever they personally decide to fund.

And who better to represent the one per cent than K-OL? I was talking to my criminologist friend Jenna Simpson this morning about the Harper government's law-and-order agenda and she said, "K-OL probably loved the new crime bill, C-10." (Jenna didn't really refer to him as K-OL, I'm just trying to make it look like everyone's doing it, so you will too).

K-OL predominantly chose drug offenders for the show. And as Jenna points out:

Mandatory minimums have been increased for a whole bunch drug offences, which is the only palatable crime where they can be construed as entrepreneurs on this show. They can't have violent criminals on CBC, pimps, Hells Angels, etc. There's also offences that are no longer eligible for house arrests or conditional release -- which is the highest likelihood for rehabilitation. And stiffer sentences for repeat young offenders -- I assume these people have been involved in the drug trade since they were youth offenders. People don't decide suddenly at the age of 40 to start selling crack.

So in comes K-OL, to promote himself as a hero to the poor, criminalized, disenfranchised. He unquestioningly relies on market-driven clichés -- as he tells the woman whom he sends home in the first episode: "You have to ask yourself, 'What can I do to make myself better and help the people I work for?'"

K-OL's redemption competition is designed to prove that this is how people get ahead in this world, and further justify his own status, authority, and wealth.

Jenna asks, "Really, now we have to compete for rehabilitation?" Welcome to Harper's Canada.

More on my love affair with K-OL next Tuesday.