First published at Global News on February 5, 2018.
The self-styled “Mr. Wonderful” won’t be in the PC Party of Ontario leadership race — but Kevin O’Leary says he will get involved.
The billionaire financier and Shark Tank star told Global News Radio 980 CFPL in an exclusive interview Monday that he plans on serving as an “agitator” to the PC party’s leadership contest. And he isn’t ruling out another federal run in the future.
Citing Ontario’s status as a noncompetitive, money-losing province, O’Leary said ousting Premier Kathleen Wynne is “ultimately the most important thing.”
“We can’t fire her for malfeasance,” he said. “She’s not working in a private company: we can only go through an election process. I would say the probability of getting rid of her now has never been higher.”
During his aborted run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017, O’Leary frequently took aim at Wynne, calling her “incompetent,” expressing his desire to see her “fired,” and making it a “personal goal” to rid Ontario of her.
That raised the question of whether he planned to take her on directly by trying to lead the PC Party of Ontario.
While he said that isn’t in the cards for him, he wants to help Ontario find the best person to do so. He sees potential in the field of candidates stepping up to replace Patrick Brown, though he won’t formally endorse or support any of them before seeing their platforms.
“We’ve got to find that manager amongst these candidates that’s gonna get us out of that mess,” he said. “And I don’t know who that is yet, so I’m, like everybody else, very excited that we can finally bring forward a candidate that has the capability of getting rid of Kathleen Wynne.”
There’s one surefire method to tumble to the bottom of O’Leary’s list, however — support a carbon tax.
The controversial hallmark of Patrick Brown’s policies — introduction of a revenue-neutral carbon tax — is a no-go for O’Leary, who says he’ll wage social media war on any candidates who don’t clearly and unequivocally oppose such a tax.
“I want to hear right out of their lips, ‘No carbon tax,’” he said. “I don’t want to hear the wishy-washy, ‘Maybe, maybe not,’ ‘I’m going to talk to the caucus,’ ‘I’m going to talk to the constituency.’ I’ve heard a lot of that. That’s crap. I want to hear, ‘No carbon tax.’ Anybody that supports a carbon tax, I am vehemently against.”
When O’Leary withdrew from the federal leadership race — too late to remove himself from the ballot — he was at the top of the polls. However, he crunched the numbers and didn’t see a path to victory because of his sub-par performance in Quebec. Even if he won the federal Conservative leadership, he decided there would be no way he could win a general election with the majority he thought was necessary to enact the change he wanted.
His desire to agitate the Ontario PC party leadership race may be seen by some as a public relations ploy, but it actually combats his biggest weakness in the federal Conservative leadership race — people not knowing whether he was serious.
Many conservatives criticized him as a fly-by-night candidate. He had never been involved in Conservative politics before. So why now?
When he left the federal leadership race, many questioned whether he had been looking for an exit strategy all along, and had merely been on a lark. His desire to engage in the political process now is encouraging, showing he genuinely sees a role for himself within it.
Whether his motives are pure is something future voters can decide, and it looks like they may have an opportunity to do so.
O’Leary, who is hosting a fundraiser this spring to help pay off his former campaign’s $500,000 in debt, may run again.
“If I could solve the language problem, I could have a good shot, one day, at getting a federal mandate,” he said. “And I’ve always thought that Canada could be like Switzerland if it was properly managed. That’s the opportunity I still have my eye focused on.”