'It hasn't even been a week': O'Leary's bow out shocks Manitoba campaigner

It was just last week that Kevin O’Leary reached out to Manitobans and asked for their vote in the federal Conservative leadership race. Now, the last candidate to join the race has dropped out.

Kevin O’Leary held rallies in Portage la Prairie, Winnipeg last Thursday

Kevin O'Leary has dropped out of the Conservative leadership race and is now endorsing Quebec MP Maxime Bernier. (David Donnelly/CBC)

It was just last week that Kevin O'Leary reached out to Manitobans and asked for their vote. Now, the candidate perceived as one of the front-runners in the Conservative leadership race has bowed out.

"It hasn't even been a week yet. He came last Thursday and he was working very hard, very diligently and I mean, like I said, it has just been a … shock," said Max Querel, the Manitoba deputy director for the O'Leary for Canada campaign.

O'Leary announced that he was leaving the leadership race on Wednesday and would be supporting Maxime Bernier. The businessman and reality TV star said he was confident he could win the Conservative race, but wasn't sure he could defeat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next election.

Querel said he was informed that O'Leary had dropped out during a conference call on Wednesday morning.

"Kevin informed us this morning with a conference call saying that he's decided to drop out for a number of reasons, and most of those reasons are because we can't muster up support in Quebec," Querel said on CBC Radio's Up To Speed.

"It's sad but, you know, we have to look forward. We are all Conservatives and we will support another Conservative leader going forward."

Kevin O'Leary spoke on CBC Manitoba's Up to Speed last Thursday after holding a rally in Portage la Prairie. (CBC News)

It's a tough turn for Querel to take, particularly after he got to know O'Leary during the tour of Manitoba last week. Querel picked up the former Dragons' Den personality from the Winnipeg airport and they travelled together to a rally in Portage la Prairie, and then later another in Winnipeg.

"Seeing how Kevin was working, he was working very hard while I was with him," said Querel.

However, the work done at the rallies resulted in more than 1,000 new members to the Conservative Party, Querel said, so it wasn't a waste of time.

"I mean, these are new members and they all have the same say as another member in Quebec or Ontario. They all get to say who they want as a leader," Querel said.

In his announcement on Wednesday, O'Leary said Bernier was best placed to pick up seats for the Conservative Party in Quebec, even though the two candidates previously sparred over allegations of membership fraud and vote buying.

When asked about that sparring, Bernier said the two had a "nice competition but now we are together."

Querel said he plans to reach out to the Bernier campaign to continue his support of the party.

"The way I see it, we just have to get behind another candidate. Like I said, we are all Conservatives."

O'Leary becomes the third candidate to withdraw from the Conservative leadership race. Tony Clement and Winnipeg doctor Daniel Lindsay both withdrew late last year.

There are 13 candidates remaining in the race. The Conservatives will choose a new leader on May 27.

with files from Up To Speed