Kevin O'Leary tries to trump Rachel Notley, saying she's 'bankrupt' of ideas
'I believe she's not qualified to manage Canada's number 1 resource,' says former dragon
Kevin O'Leary is not a policy adviser for Alberta's NDP government, but this week he's been playing one on radio and television.
The wealthy investor, who made a name for himself on CBC's Dragons' Den and the Lang & O'Leary Exchange, is just brimming with advice for Premier Rachel Notley.
But his primary message has been that Notley is the wrong leader with the wrong ideas at the wrong time.
"I believe she's not qualified to manage Canada's number 1 resource," O'Leary said Wednesday on CBC's Edmonton AM radio show. "She's the wrong steward for this asset."
Thus began round two of a war of words that O'Leary started earlier this week when he told a Toronto radio station he would invest $1 million in Alberta's energy sector if Notley would resign from office and hand the reins over to someone more qualified.
"I'm a Canadian investor," O'Leary said during a feisty exchange with CBC host Mark Connolly. "I'm incredibly frustrated watching our number 1 industry collapse like this, at the hand of [someone] who I believe is not qualified to manage in a period of crisis."
O'Leary denied his investment offer is a publicity stunt. He said energy represents $130 billion in exports, and one reason the Canadian dollar has collapsed is because there is little or no market right now for the country's number 1 commodity.
Investors can take their money anywhere in the world, he said, and are more likely to park their millions or billions in safe and certain jurisdictions.
He pointed to uncertainty over royalty rates as one reason investors may be gun-shy about Alberta.
The NDP government said last fall it planned to release a new royalty framework by the end of 2015, but that review is now expected at the end of January.
Notley said Tuesday her government's review won't lead to added costs for the industry, at least in the short term.
"I can say very definitively that no one's going to see a royalty review that increases anybody's costs in the near future," she.
O'Leary said he can't understand why the premier can't just put her cards on the table for everyone to see. All Notley has done in the first eight months of her mandate, he said, is raise corporate taxes from 10 per cent to 12 per cent and bring in $3 billion in carbon taxes.
"These are bankrupt ideas," he said. "You may not like the message. I don't care, it's the truth."
Though he admitted there is no "magic solution" to fix Alberta's economy, the former dragon did offer his own plan, which would include a task force with seats at the table for the largest market capital companies in the province.
"I would immediately do two things," he said. "Number 1, I would remove that increase in corporate tax rates. In fact, I would reduce it.
"I would cut a deal with those companies, saying: 'I'm going to support you, as a government, during the period that our commodity has collapsed. Because I want to maintain these jobs. We're going to run a deficit to keep these people employed with you during the period that oil is $30 or below."
Next, he would tell Alberta's energy companies: "I'm not going to talk about increasing taxes on carbon. Not now. I realize that's important, and I'm not saying we won't get to it , but right now I'm going to keep your jobs. That's the plan I want to hear."
After O'Leary's initial comments, where he called on Notley to step down, the premier had her own rejoinder.
"The last time a group of wealthy businessmen tried to tell Alberta voters how to vote, I ended up becoming premier," she said.
That prompted this from the man who was once called Canada's "own celebrity businessman, our own [Donald] Trump" by Report on Business magazine. The article about O'Leary was headlined: I'm not a billionaire, but I play one on TV.
"That's not a plan," O'Leary said. "It's a soundbite."
In the end, if this is indeed the end, O'Leary said he is glad he started the whole imbroglio.
"I expected to get a lot of flak from this," he said. "But if it's creating a national dialogue, which it seems to be doing, that was what I wanted to do."