Could Canada be about to get their very own Donald J. Trump? Kevin O’Leary, an Irish Canadian business tycoon, author and reality TV star, says the President-elect’s victory has inspired him to try his hand at politics and now he’s standing to be the next leader of Canada’s opposition Conservative Party.
Described by the Winnipeg Free Press as a “reality TV villain,” O’Leary was born in Montreal in 1954 to an Irish father and Lebanese mother. He describes his origins as “humble” and credits his father’s “Irish charisma” for his success in the corporate world.
After completing his MBA he moved into business and his software company, The Learning Company (TLC), was soon worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
But like Trump in New York business was not always plain sailing for him. The company shed $105 million in revenue in 1998 and it was not long after that that O’Leary cut ties with TLC. Despite the difficulties, he was still a much wealthier man than when he had bought the company.
He moved into the media and became an author, writing a series of books called “Cold Hard Truth” about money, relationships and children. But it was his appearances on "Dragons’ Den," "Shark Tank" and "The Lang and O'Leary Exchange" that earned him fame – or notoriety – across Canada.
And although he didn’t denounce Americans as rapists bring drugs across Canada’s southern border when he tweeted his entry into the race this week, O’Leary’s game plan otherwise sounds remarkably like a carbon copy of Trump’s rise from celebrity to Commander-in-Chief.
"I know Trump. I know his family. I've watched him work. I think he's smart as a fox," the CBC reported O'Leary as saying.
"Every word that comes out of a politician's mouth, including mine, should I elect to go for this, is how does it create the next incremental job. That's what I care about."
And like Trump before him, he’s not afraid to throw his cash about, making headlines last year when he promised to invest $760,000 in the province of Alberta if its left wing Premier Rachel Notley resigned from office.
Where before Trump’s victory he might have been shrugged off by as an “also ran” by pundits, now many Canadians are taking his candidacy deadly seriously. A former cabinet minister has launched a StopKevinOLeary.com website, accusing him of being a “TV entertainer with absolutely no filter.”
But O’Leary’s bullish about his electoral prospects, telling a group of Conservative lawmakers that he can beat the incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom he labeled a “fine surfer dude” but a “complete incompetent.”
However, Trudeau has one undeniable advantage over O’Leary: he speaks both of Canada’s official languages fluently. The last Prime Minister who could not speak both English and French was John Diefenbaker, who was ousted in 1963. Since then it’s been something of an unofficial requirement that a party leader should be able to communicate in the languages of both Shakespeare and Molière.
O’Leary has shrugged off his unilingualism, promising to “try” to learn French even if he does not think it vital. “You can speak five languages and still not get anything done. To lead an economy out of a morass, an abyss, you have to be able to execute, regardless of your language skills,” he told MPs.
Ultimately Conservative party members will decide whether O’Leary’s inability to speak French matters enough and the leadership will come down to a ballot of party members. We will know the result on May 27.