Kevin O'Leary eyeing Conservative Leadership race as his latest self-promotion vehicle
News report: O’Leary circling as key Conservatives test Tory leadership waters
Words cannot express how ludicrous it is for our man Kevin O’Leary to muse that he is considering a run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. There’s no doubt that it must appeal to him as a publicity stunt, but, even then, it’s his most outlandish one yet. As KO himself has made clear in the past, his entire focus is about drawing eyeballs and doing things that might be called “marketing” (in the most generous use of the word) as long as he gains financially as a result. After all, as he has said so many times:
“Money is the only thing that matters.”
Can you imagine those words coming out of the mouths of Bill Davis, John Diefenbaker, Peter Lougheed, Sir John A. Macdonald, Brian Mulroney, Robert Stanfield…? I’m sure the Federal Liberals can’t believe their good fortune that the CPC leadership race might devolve from a serious discussion about vision to one where the media coverage is dominated by KO’s bombastic inanities.
That otherwise sane people are comparing KO to U.S. Presidential Candidate, reality show star and well-known businessman Donald Trump is harder to comprehend. Chief among them is KO’s former TV partner, Amanda Lang. As a news journalist, and one that I like, you’d think her contribution to the topic would be carefully considered. Although I expect they are friends, and she may assume that her current fame is partially due to the viewers KO’s verbal diarrhea drove to their tag team show on BNN/CBC, she is certainly well-placed to think critically about the proposition. Instead, her immediate contribution on Twitter of “O’Leary is Canada’s Donald Trump” ignores the obvious elephants in the room.
And they are HUGE, these elephants.
First and foremost, given this is a race about trust as much as it is about ideas, there’s no evidence of KO’s prior interest in the Conservative Party. There’s no question that Conservative’s need to maintain their big tent if they want to return to power in Ottawa, which includes bombasts like KO, I suppose. As Belinda Stronach found in 2004, money doesn’t get you to the top of the final ballot in a Leadership race. And no one doubted that she was driven by a sincere desire to serve, rather than her bank account.
If he ever steps into a church basement in Saskatchewan, for example, KO will need to explain a few things if he wants Tory members to give him the keys. Considering his alleged interest in politics, and this Party in particular, he’ll have to explain why his name doesn’t show up in the Elections Canada donor database, for example. Their is one donor by the name of “Kevin O’Leary” that appears about a dozen times, but he’s been financially exclusive with the NDP since 2005 (there’s no donation record for a “Terence O’Leary”, in case you were wondering). Another key question will be whether or not he even voted for local candidate Karim Jivraj in the last election, since he’s told Shark Tank viewers that he lives in Boston, Massachusetts. That’s a long way from Rosedale. KO’s a good talker, but with that track record he’ll be hard-pressed to present himself as interested in being a proud member of The Conservative Party, rather than merely using the CPC stage to promote The O’Leary Party and his O’Shares.
More important to many will be the fact that KO has failed in business time and time and time again (see prior representative posts “24 of 25 O’Leary Funds lost money in 2011” May 27-12, “O’Leary Funds appear to shed another 20% of assets in 2012” Jan. 27-13, “Shed a tear for O’Leary’s Yield Advantaged Convertible Debenture IPO investors” March 24-13, “Kevin O’Leary closes failed mortgage startup” April 14-14). A businessman with a spotty track record is a bit like a Army General without any soldiers; the title sounds good until folks focus on the nitty gritty. Can you imagine what fun his Liberal opponents will have pointing that out when KO professes to know how to run a government?
And, let’s not forget, KO merely pretends to be a billionaire (see prior post “What is the origin of O’Leary’s “billionaire” moniker?” Jan. 24-10). To compare him to Trump, who has successfully climbed many pinnacles in U.S. business, including that one, is to pretend that masquerading as a billionaire businessman (also see the RoB piece) is the same as actually being one. But that’s just my opinion.
Who wants to be treated by a fake dentist? Not I.
For KO’s part, he claims to know no failure: “I take pride in the fact that all my new ventures began as small businesses and became million and billion-dollar successes.” And yet, if you look at the last 15 years, his list of successes is sparse.
His favourite proof point, The Learning Company, went bankrupt, although KO did earn about $7 million on his way out (prior to paying his share of the US$122 million settlement which resulted from a 2003 “stock fraud” lawsuit, mind you; see prior post “When it comes to marketing at least, Kevin O’Leary knows what he’s doing” Aug. 13-14). KO tried to become a king in the Canadian mortgage space on the heels of CBC’s Dragon’s Den, and despite hawking his wares in places like Thunder Bay, that start-up was shuttered after just a few months of operation. There’s no evidence that North Coast Capital LLC ever did a deal during his time there a decade ago, and we all know what a performance disaster many of his mutual funds were (see representative prior posts “O’Leary Funds appear to shed another 20% of assets in 2012” Jan. 27-13 and “RRSP season unkind to Kevin O’Leary’s fundraising hopes” June 5-13), prior to the gracious “acquisition” of that business by Brett Wilson.
For those who are new to this blog, hit this link for some highlights of KO’s various antics.
KO may not have appreciated it at the time, but saying he’d invest “one million dollars” in energy stocks, if only Alberta Premier Rachel Notley would resign, makes him look more like a piker than a savvy, successful business tycoon. Every home in Leaside, just northeast of KO’s Toronto residence, is probably worth a million bucks. But since KO knew his wife would never let him risk their entire, if modest, fortune, he had to use a number that seemed like a lot; at least to him. The fact that a million Canadian dollars wouldn’t cover the fuel bill for Donald Trump’s helicopter fleet is another example of the gulf between the two men, but that’s just my opinion.
As his initial foray into politics, KO might have been well-advised to choose something other than a call for the Premier of Alberta to resign so early in her mandate; it’s not like she was going to say “ok, Kevin, if that’s how you feel…I quit.” KO’s former CBC colleague Arlene Dickinson summed up his intervention this way: “…not constructive, it’s not helpful in any way and it’s really typical of Kevin’s bombastic style.”
Politicians make mistakes all the time, but I fear KO’s attack mentality is the only technique he knows. I think Justin Trudeau’s recent political success is evidence that Canadians aren’t keen on U.S.-style political theatre.
KO’s other challenge is the fact that the spot for an opinionated, loud businessman in the Conservative leadership race is already reserved by former Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford. And while he’s yet to declare his candidacy, Mr. Ford does have some connections in the Conservative Party to lean on when the time comes. I can’t imagine KO knowing a single Conservative organizer across Canada. And, if you look carefully at his CBC commentary on the idea, it’s not as though anyone in the Conservative Party has asked him to put his name into the Leadership hat:
I thought at some point, someone is going to say to me, if you can be such a critic, why don’t you do better? Why don’t you try it?” O’Leary told CBC News.
KO is being quite transparent with us, and we should take note of that: “I thought” to myself, hmmm, maybe I should. That’s how KO is describing his own thinking. “At some point, someone is going to say…why don’t you try it?”
Which means, prior to last week anyway, more people (2) from the Party appear to have encouraged me to run than the omnipresent KO himself. If the country was crying out for a unilingual, bald, 50 year-old, 5 pound overweight, French wine-loving Dad with British Isle roots from midtown Toronto, I’d be very surprised (and I’m one myself). I can tell you as someone who went to his first Tory convention in 1976 that there’s a strong connection between knowing the Party and winning the Party leadership. Kim Campbell is the only outlier in the past 100 years that I can think of, and Conservatives will never forget what happened when the Leadership was blindly handed to a self-possessed interloper in 1993.
For those in the Conservative Party who think the attention KO would draw could be a plus for the race, be careful what you wish for. Every time a marginal Republican Presidential candidate makes a crazy point in a televised debate, moderate voters recoil. Democrats point and say “see, look at the extreme views that party holds.” To give KO another television vehicle to sell his financial snakeoil does a great disservice to the true public servants who will ultimately be in the race.
Canadian politics isn’t about money, and KO will find out very quickly that Canadians care dearly what comes out of a candidate’s mouth. A “Financial pundit” might generate television ratings, but Canadians are not going to hand the reins to someone who doesn’t reflect their values.
(disclosure: this post, like all blogs, in an Opinion Piece)
Superb column on KO. The only similarities that seem to exist is that both DT and KO are in one person plays that they are acting out in real time. There are twists and turns and the occasional reveal. But it is theatre. Substance is what is needed here – and I am hopeful that Canadians understand that at the end of the day. Well written.