O'Leary spent most of 1st week of leadership campaign in U.S.

Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary says there's no problem with him spending almost all of the first week of his campaign in the United States.

Conservative leadership candidate says Canadians understand he's making the case for NAFTA

Federal Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary said it shouldn't be seen as a problem that he spends so much time in the U.S. 'I'm spending a lot of time in New York talking our case,' he said. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Kevin O'Leary may aspire to be Prime Minister of Canada, but a CBC News analysis suggests he spent the vast majority of the first week of his first political campaign in another country.

"You know I'm actually a household name in the United States," O'Leary said when asked by CBC News about his schedule that week, "and because of what's happening in trade and immigration I've become a spokesperson for Canada on American networks."

A CBC News analysis of O'Leary's media appearances and social media postings suggest that five or six days of his first week campaigning were spent south of the border.

While O'Leary launched his campaign in Toronto on Wednesday Jan. 18, by Thursday morning he was in New York City for an interview on Good Morning America.

In the following days, he gave at least one broadcast interview to a Canadian network from Hollywood, Florida, where he was attending a three day a conference on exchanged traded funds (ETFs). The conference website shows O'Leary gave two talks — one early morning Monday called "Welcome to the Adviser Tank" and another the next day titled "Using ETFs to Build Income Portfolios for Me, My Kids & My Family Trust." O'Leary owns a mutual funds company, O'Leary Funds Management LP, which has an ETF fund.

By late Tuesday he had flown to Montreal.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Asked whether his absence from the country might send a mixed message about his commitment, O'Leary replied "Canadians aren't stupid."

"I'm spending a lot of time in New York talking our case, preparing for what's going to happen in these negotiations," O'Leary said of plans by the Trump administration to renegotiate NAFTA.

"That is of grave concern to me and I'm trying to bring our case to the American people, because there's a lot of things they don't know," O'Leary said from Halifax, where he is attending a meeting of the provincial Progressive Conservative party that features a debate between the 14 candidates vying for leadership of the federal party.

MacKay calls for commitment to Canada

Former Conservative cabinet Minister Peter MacKay, who was at the same event, raised concerns about where O'Leary spent his time.

"I think Canadians expect that you're going to commit first and foremost to Canada," he said.

"I think that's one of those baseline expectations that most Canadians — most that I certainly have talked to — would share. Those are decisions that individual candidates would make but I know that [Canadians] keep track of those things."

O'Leary apologizes for tweet

O'Leary also said he was sorry for a tweet and Facebook posting on Tuesday that linked to a video of him firing a series of automatic weapons. The postings went up just as the public funerals for several victims of the Ste-Foy gunman were being held. O'Leary later removed the postings.

Some of his political opponents suggest the problem was that O'Leary was out of the country that day, ringing the closing bell at the New York stock exchange.

Asked about that theory, O'Leary responded that his leadership campaign was experiencing "geometric growth" in staffing.

"When you have geometric growth you make mistakes. But look, I'm not blaming anybody else. That's my fault, OK? And I'm very sorry for it."

No plans to give up Irish passport

O'Leary also told CBC News he does not have U.S. citizenship but he does have an Irish passport, because of his father.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair once faced pressure to give up his status as a dual citizen of France. O'Leary suggested giving up his passport would mean "denouncing" his heritage and said he wouldn't consider it.

"Are you kidding? My dad came here 50 feet [15 metres] from here," he said speaking from Halifax, where the federal Conservative leadership candidates are debating Saturday night.  "He was Irish. I"m proud to be a Lebanese-Irish immigrant. No, I'm not denouncing my heritage of Ireland."


Catherine Cullen

Senior reporter

Catherine Cullen is host of CBC Radio's The House and a senior reporter on Parliament Hill.