Businessman Kevin O'Leary will enter the Conservative leadership race Wednesday, CBC News has learned.

The Montreal-born anglophone will launch his campaign in Toronto only hours after skipping the French-language debate, which was held Tuesday night in Quebec City, sources close to the candidate said.

The move comes a week after his campaign exploratory committee told the former CBC Television host there was a "clear path to victory" if he jumped into the crowded race to replace Stephen Harper as permanent leader of the Conservative Party.

"Your many fans are eager to support you and will join the party to do so," Mike Coates, chair of the committee, told O'Leary in a letter, adding that many existing party members would support him because he offers "the most compelling chance at winning the next election."

The former Dragon's Den investor must file his candidacy papers and pay a deposit by Feb. 24 in order to be a candidate in the May 27 vote.

O'Leary is a late entrant to the race, as 13 other candidates have been vying for the leadership for months, dutifully signing up new members to stand behind them at the convention in Toronto.

"My problem is too many candidates in any of these debates in any language. You can't have a debate, you can't talk about Canada, you can't bring your policies forward, you can't show a different direction in 20-second sound bites. Please tell me when we're down to four or five, then we'll talk turkey," O'Leary said earlier this month.

Conservative debate

O'Leary has skipped the first three Conservative Party leadership debates, and has said he doesn't like the format as the 13 candidates simply square off in a 'soundbite' contest. (CBC)

French-language hurdle

O'Leary has faced criticism from other candidates who questioned his decision to skip the French-language debate.

"If Kevin wants to run, it's time to fish or cut bait," Conservative candidate Andrew Scheer said earlier this month. "It is not acceptable to stall or delay in order to avoid the French-language debate."

O'Leary does not speak any French, but in a recent interview with CBC News said he was working with a tutor to improve his proficiency.

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, another candidate who has polled well in early surveys, has taken aim at O'Leary's poor French-language skills.

"If [O'Leary] believes he can win an election without speaking a word of French, he is wrong," Bernier said late last year. "And I think the members of the Conservative Party are conscious of this. They are conscious of the need for a leader who can speak in French to Quebecers."

Milton MP Lisa Raitt has also questioned O'Leary's fitness to run, launching a website,, to rally party members against his candidacy.

She has cited his past support for a national carbon tax and his bombastic remarks about the poor, union members and veterans as qualities that will sink his campaign in the 2019 general election.

"O'Leary is a TV entertainer with absolutely no filter," she said.

With files from CBC's Hannah Thibedeau, Susan Lunn and John Paul Tasker