As It Happens

Kevin O'Leary on why he quit the Conservative race and what his future holds

Kevin O'Leary tells As It Happens why he quit the Tory leadership race and what he thinks the future holds for Canada, the Conservative Party and his own political career.
Kevin O'Leary has dropped out of the Conservative leadership race and put his support behind Maxime Bernier. (David Donnelly/CBC)

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Kevin O'Leary dropped out of the Conservative leadership race Wednesday, saying he doesn't have enough support in Quebec to beat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election. 

Instead, the businessman and TV personality is throwing his support behind Maxime Bernier.

As It Happens host Carol Off reached O'Leary in the lobby of Toronto's Royal York hotel on Wednesday to discuss how he came to this decision and what he thinks the future holds for Canada, the Conservative Party and his own political career.

Here's what he had to say.

On why he decided to call it quits

"I'm in this to beat Trudeau. I'll do anything I can to get rid of him. As a Canadian, I feel that he's a terrible manager of our economy and I want to help him find his true calling. But I can't do it if I just hand him Quebec and he wins the majority of the 78 seats. I know that. I'm being pragmatic."

O'Leary leaves the Conservative race and speaks to reporters

5 years ago
Duration 1:31
O'Leary leaves the Conservative race and speaks to reporters

On why he couldn't gain traction with Quebec voters

"I spent as much time I as could there campaigning. I spent as much time as I could learning French. I spent as much time and explained to everybody that I was born there. And I was optimistic at the beginning of the journey that I could move the needle to at least 20 per cent ... and I could not move it."

On his appeal to voters

"Unfortunately, politics is a numbers game. Yes, you need to appeal to people and I think I did a great job there. I sold more memberships to people than anybody ever has done in the Conservative Party. I was able to get thousands of students to come and listen to me, something that no Conservative candidate's ever been able to do. I'm going to continue to do that."

On his time spent outside the country

"The fact that I'm a global investor is actually a huge advantage and I'm going to continue to tell Americans, who know me well, about our country. Because we are going into a vicious negotiation like we've never seen before. We're being attacked on softwood lumber, on energy, on automotive, on dairy. We have to bring our case forward."

On why he's supporting Maxime Bernier

"I think by backing Bernier I do two things: I become the kingmaker to make him win the leadership. I'm optimistic that'll occur. And then I'll do anything in my power to help him."

Kevin O'Leary is dropping out of the Conservative leadership race and is endorsing his opponent Quebec MP Maxime Bernier. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

On the future of the Conservative Party

"We've got to make the tent, the Conservative Party tent, way wider than it is. We have to actually get 40 per cent of the people between the ages of 18 and 35 to vote for us and we have to get 30 seats in Quebec. We get those two things? We have a majority mandate.

"So you have to broaden the tent to be more liberal on social policies while you still deliver a doctrine that has fiscal responsibility that the Conservatives bring forward that they don't have in the Liberal Party. They're spending money like drunken sailors right now. "

On his own future in politics

"The best value that I have for the party right now is to get young people in the tent, do the same thing Trudeau did two years ago when he went across the country to technical colleges, universities and young campuses and got those young people to vote for him.

"And he promised them sunny ways. There's no sunny ways. They're unemployed. They just have an empty light bulb in their parents' basement where they live because they can't get a job. That's what I'm going to go talk to them about."

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