O’ Leary a good fit for pol­i­tics

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - MICHAEL DEN TANDT

Cana­dian pol­i­tics, and the Con­ser­va­tive party in par­tic­u­lar, needs more Kevin O’Leary. And I’m not even jok­ing. O’Leary should run. His can­di­dacy would do tim­o­rous, hide­bound Ottawa a world of good.

The for­mer Dragons’ Den star’s rev­e­la­tion to the CBC that he’s mulling an out­sider bid for the Tory crown hit Canada’s chat­ter­ing classes like a thun­der­bolt early Thurs­day. Re­ac­tion ranged from amused con­de­scen­sion, to shock, to — pre­dictably — out­raged com­par­isons to the in­cen­di­ary bil­lion­aire, dis­rupter, buf­foon and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump.

One rea­son for th­ese com­par­isons: O’Leary has made them him­self.

He is noth­ing if not skilled at plac­ing him­self at the epi­cen­tre of at­ten­tion, then chortling glee­fully as oth­ers ori­ent them­selves around his dark po­lar­ity. It’s a freak­ish knack he has.

It’s also a tal­ent no­tably ab­sent from the cur­rent Cana­dian political scene — ex­cept in the per­son of one Justin Trudeau, prime min­is­ter of Canada, who sits at pre­cisely the op­po­site end of the ide­o­log­i­cal teeter- tot­ter from O’Leary. The two of them, shar­ing a de­bat­ing stage, or glar­ing at one an­other across the aisle in the House of Com­mons, would be a per­fect matched set — mat­ter and an­ti­mat­ter, ivory chess pieces ver­sus ob­sid­ian. It would be a political cage match for the ages. It would make — let’s be hon­est — ter­rific TV.

Is O’Leary ac­tu­ally Trump in a beaver-pelt hat? In some ways yes, in oth­ers no. Like the U. S. real- es­tate mogul, O’Leary’s fame is partly founded on his past suc­cess as an en­tre­pre­neur. Like Trump, he is a skilled com­mu­ni­ca­tor who prides him­self on telling it like it is. Like Trump, O’Leary is an avowed, un­apolo­getic evan­ge­list for cap­i­tal­ism, red in tooth and claw.

But un­like Trump, so far as I can tell, O’Leary has never ut­tered a pub­lic re­mark that would sug­gest he is a bigot, a misog­y­nist or an im­be­cile. His abid­ing in­ter­est is not re­li­gion or cul­tural iden­tity, but money. His en­tire political pur­pose, as he put it in com­ing out as an as­pir­ing politi­cian, is eco­nomic. “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,” O’Leary told the CBC. “That’s what I care about.”

Those who dis­miss O’Leary as a mere pon­tif­i­cat­ing blowhard are un­der­es­ti­mat­ing him. I worked along­side him briefly in 2003, as he was mak­ing his start in Cana­dian busi­ness tele­vi­sion at what was then ROBTv, now BNN. His spe­cialty at the time was pick­ing over- val­ued stocks. The for­mat, typ­i­cally, would be a de­bate in which one an­a­lyst cited the pro, the other the con, on a given stock. O’Leary’s analy­ses of bal­ance sheets and cor­po­rate shenani­gans were cut­ting, funny and cor­rect more of­ten than not, if mem­ory serves. Even those who loathe his pub­lic per­sona will con­cede he has screen pres­ence and charisma to spare.

Some would say, of course, that O’Leary’s re­li­gion is money, that he ap­peals to the worst as­pect of hu­man na­ture — greed — and that this in it­self dis­qual­i­fies him from par­tic­i­pat­ing in Cana­dian political life. He would likely chuckle at such a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion, then re­it­er­ate a ver­sion of his long- stand­ing mantra: Money is stored hu­man en­ergy, and the best ob­jec­tive mea­sure of true value. How can any­one be against it? It’s the kind of think­ing that en­rages left- lean­ing view­ers of O’Leary’s shows, which in­clude the cur­rent Shark Tank on ABC, but de­lights ide­o­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tives. Pre­sum­ably, not all his 466,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers be­lieve he’s a mon­ster.

In­deed, if you lis­ten on oc­ca­sion to O’Leary’s turns on the ra­dio, you may ob­serve he speaks at times like a char­ac­ter out of a novel by the lib­er­tar­ian au­thor Ayn Rand. He is, in his own way, an ide­al­ist. As such he could be ex­pected to of­fer a tren­chant coun­ter­point in a political pan­theon now en­tirely dom­i­nated by cen­tre-left or­tho­doxy, whether in On­tario, Al­berta or fed­er­ally.

To re­state: If O’Leary is the pure eco­nomic lib­er­tar­ian he seems, and not a cul­ture war­rior, then he’s ac­tu­ally no Trump, re­gard­less of what he, O’Leary, may claim. This would be crit­i­cal to his political suc­cess in Canada. The Tories’ stray­ing into iden­tity pol­i­tics last fall was an im­por­tant fac­tor in their loss, as they them­selves know. The party needs a pul­pit-pounder on eco­nom­ics, smart enough to skewer the govern­ment’s mis­takes in mem­o­rable fash­ion across all me­dia plat­forms, while stick­ing to his or her knit­ting.

Does O’Leary have a shot against party stal­warts such as for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ters Peter MacKay, Tony Cle­ment, Kel­lie Leitch, Ja­son Ken­ney, Lisa Raitt or Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall? I would ar­gue he does. He was born in Mon­treal, went to high school in Ottawa and has an MBA from the Univer­sity of Western On­tario. He is re­put­edly bilin­gual. Even if his French is of the An­glo- Mon­trealer va­ri­ety, it would give him a leg up on as­pi­rants such as Wall, who is unilin­gual.

In short: Should he run, The Dragon will make a for­mi­da­ble can­di­date. Lib­er­als who dis­miss him risk get­ting burned.




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