Opinion

Bye, Kevin O'Leary! Good luck with your next wearable Bluetooth-umbrella venture: Robyn Urback

The casualties of O'Leary's campaign include every innocent Canadian made to hear him stumble through confused diatribes, but more importantly, the many earnest volunteers, managers and donors who gave him their time and money, and who believed him to be a serious candidate.

His candidacy seemed, from the very beginning, like little more than a gimmick to build his brand

Former Conservative leadership contender Kevin O'Leary went out of his way to avoid much of the work that goes along with running a for-serious political campaign. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Kevin O'Leary might have found the most illogical, expensive way possible to hawk his line of mid-range wines.

That is the only reasonable explanation for his three-month fling with the Canadian political process, which he has now abandoned to return to his normal life in the United States.

O'Leary's candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative Party seemed, from the very beginning, like little more than a gimmick to build his brand. As he learned about Canada's political process along with the nation's high school civics students (what does thenotwithstanding clause do again?), he promised to "scrape the crap" out of Ottawa using a floppy spatula as a prop, while offering much of the same in terms of lukewarm policy as his lesser-known competitors.

Moving to Canada

O'Leary went out of his way to avoid much of the work that goes along with running a for-serious political campaign, including ditching an appearance in Winnipeg because of a cancelled flight that was never actually cancelled, and refusing to participate in a debate in Edmonton because of the "terrible" format

The reality TV star never actually moved to Canada to run his campaign, and he refused to commit to returning to Canada even if he won the leadership race. But O'Leary was loud and bombastic and knew how to talk to a camera, which was probably just enough to earn him a contract renewal on Shark Tank. Good job, Kev — I can't wait to see you test out the latest innovations in Bluetooth-connected umbrella hats.

The casualties of O'Leary's campaign include every innocent Canadian made to hear him stumble through a confused diatribe about provincial transfer payments, but more importantly, the many earnest volunteers, managers and donors who gave him their time and money, and who believed him to be a serious candidate.

Even the final hours of O'Leary's vacuous campaign look bad. He reportedly called fellow front-runner Maxime Bernier at 1 a.m. on Wednesday to let him know of his plan to withdraw, but his campaign nevertheless sent out an email to supporters hours later begging for one more injection of cash before tonight's final Conservative debate. At 10 a.m., an O'Leary release said he was "fired up" for the debate. A few hours later, he said he "didn't want to be selfish about this," and thus, was abandoning his candidacy.

O'Leary discovers Quebec

O'Leary said in a press conference that he left the race because he didn't think he could win Quebec in a general election, which is a strange revelation to have months into a campaign. Indeed, unless O'Leary just discovered the existence of the province (no, no, Kevin, that's Maine, Quebec is in Canada, remember?), this reason doesn't really fly. Quebec has always been a problem for O'Leary, as it has been for all of the unilingual candidates. O'Leary's internal polling might have shown he wasn't making any inroads in the province, but that's bound to happen when a candidate appears to avoid debating in French at all costs.

O'Leary waited until just a couple days before voting opens to announce his withdrawal. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

O'Leary's team managed to sign up 35,335 new members, all of whom will still see his name on the ballot since O'Leary waited until just two days before voting opens to announce his withdrawal. He likely tricked many more Conservatives than that into thinking he was a real candidate, yet his hasty abdication demonstrates a fundamental disrespect for his volunteers, his donors and his campaign employees, as well as for the Conservative Party of Canada and the overall political process of the country he spent the past couple of months visiting.

O'Leary's supporters' backsides are surely stinging from his manoeuvre today — something that should offer no pleasure to the rest of us. No one wins when someone makes such a mockery of what is supposed to be a serious democratic exercise.

As for the reality star himself, well, something tells me the wine he'll be toasting to tonight will taste a little extra sweet.

I'd wager it won't be that mid-range stuff, either.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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