OTTAWA – Both of them are business titans, authors, and TV personalities — one actively running to lead the U.S. political right, and the other thinking about doing the same in Canada.
But if Kevin O’Leary does indeed decide to go into federal politics, it won’t be because he’s trying to be Donald Trump, the brash Canadian businessman said Thursday.
“I understand what he is doing with the media, and you can certainly claim I am trying to do the same, but I am not Donald Trump,” O’Leary said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“I’m a Lebanese-Irish, I don’t build walls (and) I am very proud of the society we’re building in Canada, I think it is the envy of the planet.”
O’Leary, a Canadian entrepreneur who became known outside business circles thanks to his stint on CBC’s “Dragons’ Den” and its American equivalent “Shark Tank,” said he’s got nothing in common with Trump on social, foreign or domestic policy.
He said he thinks Trump’s surprise success in vaulting to the front of the Republican leadership race is a reflection of a populist movement underway in the U.S.
It could happen in Canada, he added, but it’s not what he’s trying to do.
“It’s an interesting observation; I can see why people would say it, but that’s not what motivates me.”
Rather, O’Leary is contemplating politics for two reasons: Canadian graduate students are telling him they think they need to leave Canada to make their fortunes, and he has strong objections to the job done so far by Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
Earlier this week, he offered to invest $1 million in Canadian energy companies if Notley would step aside as premier. Notley fired back, saying a Toronto businessman had no business telling Albertans how to vote.
“She said, ‘Bring it on,'” O’Leary said. “I’m bringing it on.”
No matter what people may think of it, the energy industry drives the Canadian economy and if it is suffering, it’s the company CEO — in this case the premier — who is to blame, he said.
“You should not be allowed to manage (the Alberta economy) or be the premier of that province unless you have made payroll for two years in a company with sales of over $5 million,” he said.
“…I say the same for the prime ministership, I say the same for any leader of any province. If you haven’t made payroll, you have no right to sit in that seat.”
That, he acknowledged, would disqualify many past prime ministers, including former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper — someone about whom O’Leary seems to have mixed feelings.
“I think Stephen Harper was doing a good job in terms of policy for the private sector and he enjoyed a long period of success there; however, you also have to be compassionate,” he said.
“Canadians are that way — they just are — and they are very inclusive, and the minute you go off the rails on a topic like that, it costs you immensely, and I think he found what the price of that was.
“I don’t think politicians should dabble in social mores, in religion — their job should be to stabilize and grow an economy.”
That point of view reflects the beliefs of many Conservatives when it comes to the role of government, as does O’Leary’s philosophy that higher corporate taxes and a carbon tax would hurt Canada far more than help.
Asked whether he thought Canada should continue bombing Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, however, O’Leary suggested a different route.
“We are the best peacekeepers in the world,” he said. “I would like Canada to be very involved in peace initiatives, not war.”
O’Leary, who calls himself politically agnostic, said he’s eyeing a run for the Tories because of timing — it’s the only party actively seeking a new leader.
Political leadership is the only way to create the change Canada’s economy is demanding, he added.
“I am looking at this saying, like everybody else, ‘This is interesting, 18 months from now the country is going to have make a decision about who should be the opposition, I think I could be very effective there,'” he said.
“The question is, 18 months is an eternity in politics, so this is very early days.”
Meanwhile, Alberta MP Rona Ambrose is serving as interim Conservative leader. The party has yet to set formal rules or a date for the leadership vote, though it’s not expected to take place before next year.