Would-be Tory lead­ers set sights on O’Leary

Cape Breton Post - - PROVINCE/ATLANTIC - BY ADINA BRESGE THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

The crowd of more ex­pe­ri­enced con­tenders for the fed­eral Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship set its sights on Kevin O’Leary right out of the gate Satur­day as the re­al­ity-TV star and as­pir­ing politi­cian made his de­bate de­but in Halifax.

O’Leary’s un­con­ven­tional, no-non­sense style and celebrity sta­tus as star of the U.S.based pro­gram “Shark Tank” has made him the pre­sump­tive front-run­ner - and the pri­mary tar­get for most of the other can­di­dates on the stage, who de­rided him as in­ex­pe­ri­enced, op­por­tunis­tic and po­lit­i­cally tone-deaf.

“We have a celebrity-in-chief” in Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, On­tario MP Erin O’Toole said dur­ing his clos­ing state­ment.

“We don’t beat the celebrity-in-chief with an­other celebrity-in-chief.”

On­tario MP Michael Chong called him “Rambo” as he slammed O’Leary for re­leas­ing a video clip of him­self blast­ing away with au­to­matic weapons at a Mi­ami gun range Fri­day the same day of the fu­neral for three of the six vic­tims of the Que­bec City mosque shoot­ing.

“(He) had the au­dac­ity to post that video on the very same day we were bury­ing the vic­tims of one of the worst mass shoot­ings in Cana­dian his­tory,” Chong said.

“That video will cost us the next elec­tion.”

But O’Leary didn’t steal the en­tire show.

Be­tween the sus­tained at­tacks and wise­cracks at O’Leary’s ex­pense that book­ended the two-hour de­bate, the 14 can­di­dates took part in what was largely a mea­sured and civil ex­change of ideas about is­sues like health care, jus­tice re­form, eco­nomic growth and At­lantic Canada’s di­min­ished pro­file in Ot­tawa.

O’Toole, a for­mer navy pi­lot who was sta­tioned in Nova Sco­tia, promised to fight hard for the re­gion as prime min­is­ter.

He char­ac­ter­ized the 32 Lib­eral MPs who cur­rently rep­re­sent the re­gion as “lambs” who do lit­tle and say less to rep­re­sent their con­stituents: “The si­lence of the lambs.”

For­mer House of Com­mons Speaker An­drew Scheer de­scribed his frus­tra­tion when the Lib­er­als voted against En­ergy East, a 4,600-kilo­me­tre pipe­line project de­signed to ship crude oil from Al­berta to re­finer­ies and port ter­mi­nals in New Brunswick.

“It hap­pens ev­ery time there’s a Trudeau in of­fice,” he said. “It’s the same Ot­tawa-knows-best, cen­tral­iz­ing, big-gov­ern­ment ap­proach that the Lib­er­als are fa­mous for.”

Van­cou­ver MP An­drew Sax­ton was cheered when he de­clared “This Trudeau gov­ern­ment is as eco­nom­i­cally inept as the last Trudeau gov­ern­ment.”

On that point, all the can­di­dates agreed - in­clud­ing O’Leary.

“Nowhere does it say you have to tol­er­ate medi­ocrity” in gov­ern­ment, he said. “Peo­ple are sick of politi­cians spin­ning them BS. That time is over, my friends. That’s why I’m in this race. ”

O’Toole and Scheer both took shots at O’Leary, ac­cus­ing the Bos­ton-based busi­ness­man of flip-flop­ping on the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment’s car­bon pric­ing plan for rea­sons of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency.

Scheer also made light of O’Leary’s mus­ings about jail­ing busi­nesses that refuse to re­duce emis­sions by 30 per cent over 20 years.

“I just want to put on the record right now that not only am I op­posed to a car­bon tax, I’m op­posed to a car­bon jail,” he said, elic­it­ing chuck­les from the au­di­ence.

In her open­ing salvo, On­tario MP Kel­lie Leitch, sit­ting at O’Leary’s left el­bow, made a point of “wel­com­ing” him to the Con­ser­va­tive party, then took a dig at his lack of party bona fides.

“There have been some news sto­ries re­cently about non-Con­ser­va­tives join­ing the party to stop me from be­com­ing leader,” Leitch joked.

“I just never ex­pected to be sit­ting be­side one of them.”

O’Leary, how­ever, played it cool, re­fus­ing to rise to the bait of his ri­vals and in­stead fo­cus­ing on is­sues that played to his back­ground: fos­ter­ing job cre­ation and eco­nomic growth.

Busi­nesses need “rich soil to plant the seed” in or­der to grow and flour­ish, some­thing he said doesn’t hap­pen much in At­lantic Canada these days.

“You can’t even grow a weed here any more,” said O’Leary, whose can­di­dacy has been com­pared to the un­likely po­lit­i­cal suc­cess of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Cap­i­tal is fluid, he added - “It goes to the place of least re­sis­tance and most op­por­tu­nity.”

O’Leary only for­mally joined the com­pe­ti­tion af­ter the last lead­er­ship de­bate, his tim­ing an ef­fort to avoid mak­ing his de­but dur­ing a French-only event de­spite hav­ing been born in Que­bec, he speaks lit­tle of that lan­guage.

His cam­paign claims to have signed up 9,000 mem­bers and raised $300,000 in the first 10 days he was in the race. It took Leitch, whose fo­cus on im­mi­gra­tion re­form has also drawn com­par­isons to the Trump cam­paign, three months to raise that much.

Re­build­ing Con­ser­va­tive Party sup­port in At­lantic Canada is con­sid­ered cru­cial. And O’Toole and Lisa Raitt have both played up their East Coast roots in launch­ing their lead­er­ship bids.

Raitt, born in Syd­ney, N.S., has been out­spo­ken in her crit­i­cism of O’Leary’s de­ci­sion to join the race. She noted dur­ing Satur­day’s de­bate that her na­tive prov­ince tra­di­tion­ally sends Bos­ton a Christ­mas tree ev­ery year, then added “I just never ex­pected that Bos­ton in re­turn would send us a can­di­date for the lead­er­ship.”

Raitt promised to put the re­gion back on the na­tional po­lit­i­cal map.

“We have to earn back the trust of the vot­ers,” she said. “We de­serve a voice; we have earned that voice, and I will lis­ten to that voice.”

CP PHOTO

Kevin O’Leary makes a point at the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­dates’ de­bate in Halifax on Satur­day. Con­ser­va­tives vote for a new party leader on May 27.

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