Kevin O'Leary circling as key Conservatives test Tory leadership waters
Former Dragon looks at the field of candidates before jumping into race
The Conservative leadership race has yet to start, but potential candidates are gearing up, including celebrity businessman and ex-Dragon Kevin O'Leary and some high-profile former cabinet ministers.
The actual convention isn't expected for another 18 months.
But the extra time is allowing outsiders to consider putting their name forward, including the outspoken Toronto business mogul O'Leary.
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"I thought at some point, someone is going to say to me, if you can be such a critic, why don't you do better? Why don't you try it?" O'Leary told CBC News. "I thought to myself, hmmm, maybe I should."
The former panellist on CBC's Dragons' Den describes himself as politically agnostic, but noted, "I'm never going to run for the NDP. They don't even like me."
Not surprisingly, O'Leary said his main motivation for considering a leadership run is the economy.
"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," he said. "That's what I care about."
O'Leary raised eyebrows this week with his offer to invest a million dollars in Alberta's oilpatch if NDP Premier Rachel Notley stepped aside.
The businessman admits he's a polarizing figure, but argues he's just telling the truth. If that sounds like someone running for the top job south of the border, it should. O'Leary freely acknowledges he is inspired by the campaign success of Donald Trump.
"I know Trump. I know his family. I've watched him work. I think he's smart as a fox," he said, adding that Trump's approach to politics taps into a growing fatigue with politicians in general coupled with a desire for better management.
Field wide open
O'Leary admits he would be an outsider in a race that will likely contain many former cabinet ministers. Other potential candidates will be deciding this month whether to make the long commitment to return the Conservatives to power. Tony Clement is one of them.
"I have been receiving lots of emails, texts and social media requests, but I have not made any decisions," said Clement. "The party has to move forward, and there are a bunch of us looking forward."
Kellie Leitch is the most organized according to Conservative sources, and is the only one who is definitely in the race for now. She may, however, be tainted by her involvement in the proposed barbaric cultural practices tip line that she helped to announce during the election.
Jason Kenney, often seen as the heir apparent to Harper, is considering his options. Sources say, however, he is aware that he would be seeking to become the fourth leader of the party from Calgary. There are also organizers in Alberta urging him to unite the right in that province to defeat the NDP in the next provincial election.
Maxime Bernier is perhaps the second most organized prospect. He has made several trips across the country, including several to British Columbia to determine his level of support. He is fluently bilingual, charismatic and popular for his libertarian beliefs.
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Then there are the contenders who are still deciding, such as Lisa Raitt. She is seen to have broad support in the party, and is a woman whose personal story will appeal to voters. When asked about whether she would throw her name in, she said it was too soon to say definitively.
"I am thinking about leadership. I also know that I need to know what our party is looking at in terms of rules and what our party is looking at in terms of what kind of leadership discussion is going to be happening in the coming months," she said.
Then there are the other names mentioned behind the scenes — Peter Mackay, Jean Charest and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
'Being bilingual is a must'
Former cabinet minister James Moore left politics last year and said the reasons for that decision have not changed, so he is not considering a run for leader.
But he does know the qualities he'd like to see in whoever wins the job. Moore said they must have leadership experience, be of a similar generation as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and they must be bilingual.
"I think we've long passed the point in this country where the ability to speak both of Canada's official languages is a debate. I think anybody who is aspiring to be the prime minister of Canada has to be not just capable but fluent in both of Canada's official languages. Almost one in five Canadians speaks French first. It's not just important for the prime minister to communicate to all Canadians, but to be able to listen to all Canadians," Moore told CBC from his new office with the law firm Denton's in Vancouver.
On the possibility of O'Leary running, Moore pointed to other high-profile business people who have run for the leadership before, from Peter Pocklington to Brian Mulroney to Belinda Stronach.
Moore noted that most Conservatives he has spoken with are saying the more candidates in the race for the Conservative leadership the better.
"Mr. O'Leary brings a different style to the race," Moore said. "I don't know if he's maybe inspired by the successes in the short term that Donald Trump has had in the United States. But he's a person with some strong opinions who if he wants to offer them in public life, I think he'll find it a very different environment. But I think people will be interested to hear what he has to say."
with files from Hannah Thibedeau