When the race got underway to replace the leader of Canada’s Conservative party, former prime minister Stephen Harper, the horses in the race were a lot of the usual suspects: former cabinet ministers and party loyalists who had come from Harper’s fold over his nearly decade-long tenure as leader. Then, television personality Kevin O’Leary, who’d long toyed with an entry into politics, threw his hat in the ring. But at the end of April, with just one month remaining until party members choose a new leader, O’Leary unexpectedly dropped out.
According to CBC News, it was a meeting with his top advisors that ended things for O’Leary. Mike Coates, O’Leary’s campaign chair, believed he could win the leadership and bring the Conservatives back to government. But O’Leary himself was doubting the strength of his candidacy and didn’t think his family would be up for the challenge of the rough-and-tumble of Canadian politics. After meeting with his team, O’Leary spoke for several hours with fellow candidate Maxime Bernier, whom he eventually endorsed.
In the days following O’Leary’s exit, Maclean’s magazine put him at the top of Ottawa’s power rankings, along with Bernier. The magazine expressed doubts that his toying with the game was anything more than a brand-building exercise — and it worked. While Bernier’s profile has increased, O’Leary is looking good, and the Liberal party is stuck doing the tough job of actual governance. Maclean’s pointed to the Phoenix debacle, a series of glitches that resulted in a number of civil servants not getting paid.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton Spectator surmised Canadians will never know why he chose to run in the first place. While he added to the size of the Conservative party by bringing in 35,000 new memberships, his benefit to Bernier’s campaign is unclear. The Spectator also concluded that the entire endeavor was actually more difficult than he realized it would be; a cautionary tale not only for those looking to enter Canadian politics, but to play the game in other countries as well.
“Charisma or profile will only take you so far. A strong stamina and a clear vision are key, usually honed through years of electoral experience. Donald Trump is the outlier in this regard, but judging from his first chaotic 100 days, it may be that Americans decide never to try the ‘outsider’ experiment again.
“Perhaps O’Leary found he didn’t enjoy the process. Perhaps he realized that few voters would cast him as their second choice. Or perhaps he just lost his nerve.”
At the time of the announcement, O’Leary said he had altruistic reasons for stepping back from the competition. As CTV News reported, he said he could not deliver a majority government for the Conservatives.
“It would have been selfish to just go for the leadership and not deliver the mandate that I promised. I said if I can’t deliver a majority mandate, fire me.”
O’Leary specifically cited his inability to win votes in Quebec as a reason why he would not lead the Conservatives to victory. Meanwhile, he said Bernier, a francophone and bilingual former cabinet minister, may be able to win 20 to 30 of 78 seats in Quebec.
Meanwhile, as O’Leary steps back from politics, his work on television continues. He and his colleagues just wrapped up the eighth season of Shark Tank last Friday night. Reruns of the show air on CNBC and ABC.
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