As It Happens

Kevin O'Leary says he's the man to take on Trump — but will he run?

Investor and reality TV star Kevin O'Leary continues to muse about entering the federal Conservative leadership race, saying his voice is needed to deal with President-elect Donald Trump.
Canadian businessman Kevin O'Leary speaks during the Conservative Party of Canada convention in Vancouver, Friday, May 27, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

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For months now, Kevin O'Leary has been publicly toying with the idea of running for the leadership of the federal Conservatives. Now, the investor and reality TV star is putting forward another reason he should join the race: Donald Trump.

O'Leary believes Canada needs someone like him to stand up to the President-elect of the United States. But, skeptics don't believe the former CBC personality is up to the job of Conservative leader.

Here's part of Kevin O'Leary's conversation with As it Happens host Carol Off: 

CAROL OFF: Mr. O'Leary, We keep hearing that you might run. Now, there are some reports that you've had conversations with strategists and possible backers. Are you running or not?

KEVIN O'LEARY: I'm keeping my options open, obviously. But, there is a deadline on this. It's Feb 24. So, to keep that optionality, I'm doing some structural work and some investigations. I'm also watching as the landscape changes, obviously. The American election was a surprise to everybody and puts Canada in very perilous position now because the policy we see being formulated south of the border is going to make Canada a very uncompetitive jurisdiction.

President-elect Donald Trump walks through the lobby of the New York Times following a meeting with editors at the paper on November 22, 2016 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
I think that's going to open up a  huge opportunity in the next election. We simply have the wrong leadership to guide us through what's about to happen ... Clearly, if you had asked me just 90 days ago — before the American election — what the probability was that Trudeau would have a second mandate, I would have said 99%. Today, I think it's less than 50.

So, that's got the competition very excited. We have 12 declared candidates in the Conservative party, as many as three more to be rumoured — excluding me. That's a very crowded field. And all of them have to find a way to get their name out there — I don't have that problem. They all have to find a way to raise money — I don't have that problem. So, the best strategy for me is to simply wait until that herd gets culled. And that means I wait longer. So, I want to find out who the last four or five are going to be. If I'm going to jump in, I'd wait until then. Then, I can really assess the competition and decide what I want to do.  

Conservative leadership candidates are introduced prior the Conservative leadership debate in Saskatoon on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press) (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)
CO: So, do you think you and Mr. Trump would work well together?

 I think Trump versus Trudeau is Godzilla versus Bambi.- Kevin O'Leary

KO: Listen. I mean I'm being very clear about this. I think Trump versus Trudeau is Godzilla versus Bambi. It's going to end very badly. You need someone that can negotiate. You need someone that has run businesses — that has pivoted when they know that the environment has changed. Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau has never run a business. Mr. Butts has never a run a business. They've never made payroll. They're going to get crushed. It's just depressing.

CO: I think people will want to know more about what you stand for  — what your values are. Those who watched you on television, on The Exchange on CBC with Amanda Lang, will know some things you said. I want to just play one clip that I recall very clearly and see how you respond. 

In the clip, host Amanda Lang says, "The combined wealth  — this is according to Oxfam -- of the world's 85 richest people is equal to the 3.5 billion poorest people."

Kevin O'Leary responds, "It's fantastic. This is a great thing because it inspires everybody — gets the motivation to look up to the 1% and say I want to become one of those people. I'm going to fight hard to get up to the top. This is fantastic news and of course I applaud it."

CO: Alright. The idea that poverty is an incentive. That it's fantastic news that 3.5 billion people are living in poverty. Is that something that you could defend on the campaign trail?

Businessman Kevin O'Leary, a former panelist on CBC's Dragon's Den, is considering a run for the Tory leadership. (CBC)
KO: Good for you for playing 30-seconds out of a four-and-a-half minute conversation.  That's not what that was about. That was about celebrating entrepreneurialism and supporting young people that want to grow companies and take risks on their own and create jobs all around the world. Now, good, you've taken out a 30-second slice of it and tried to make a point. Good for you. But, that's not factual. I don't celebrate poverty. That's ridiculous and everybody knows that. At the end of the day, the way to get someone who is in a difficult situation, to make it better for their lives, get them a job. That's what we're not doing in this country. 

CO: I did hear you many times on the show when there were discussions about wages and minimum wage. You felt that keeping wages low was good for people because it would give them an incentive to pick up their socks and work harder. Did you not ever say that? 

KO: No, no, no. I don't like government imposing wages on anybody. I like businesses to pay market wages for people. The best way to solve for wages is to grow the economy. It's always the best solution. You can't tax your way to success. It doesn't work and that's what we're trying to do here. My guess is, the reason we see so many candidates competing for this next leadership race with the Conservative party is they smell the blood in the water. Trudeau is a one-term guy. He's going to be gone. 

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Kevin O'Leary.

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