Kevin O’Leary and the conservative consciousness

What O’Leary’s bid for power says about an ideological movement

image via Wikimedia commons

The thing about Kevin O’Leary, former Dragon’s Den dragon, and now potentially maybe a future candidate for the Conservative Party, is that he’s a talker, in a couple senses of the word. Most obviously, talking is something he seems to enjoy doing. He’s done a lot of it in the last couple of days, granting interviews to the Huffington Post, CTV, and the Globe and Mail, as well as taking to the stage at the annual Manning Centre conference in Ottawa to explain, if he were to run, how he’d do it. Of course all of that is equally evidence that we’re willing to listen to what he has to say and an acknowledgment that, at least as far as the news business is concerned, he’s someone that gets even more people talking (and reading and clicking).

Like I said: a talker.

In the month or so since O’Leary first floated the idea that he might want to run for Conservative leadership (he now also says that he might get the opportunity to run for Liberal leadership, because he thinks Justin Trudeau won’t last the four years of his mandate), his message has been simple. Canadians need one thing, he says: Kevin O’Leary.

His line Friday was that he will be the watchman for us all come budget time. “I’m going to watch this budget that’s coming from the Liberal government,” he told the Manning conference crowd. He then recounted a run-in he had with finance minister Bill Morneau recently. “I said, ‘Listen, Bill, I don’t like deficit spending,” O’Leary said. “I’m going to be your worst nightmare. I’m going to tear that budget to pieces.” There was applause in the room.

This is O’Leary, fashioning himself as a successful businessman (which is itself debatable), walking a well-worn path of suggesting that government ought to be run more like a business. And if we were to really get into it, we would discover his assessment of the business he is hoping to perhaps run one day is, well… um…

Take spending. Speaking to the Globe this week, O’Leary talked of “reining in government ‘inefficiencies’ such as investing in transit nobody uses.” He has also repeatedly invoked a hilarious non sequitur to criticize the prime minister for investing billions of dollars in foreign aid that he says did “not create one Canadian job”.

Or how about energy? He argues, again in the Globe, that there ought to be two pipelines in Canada — “one on the east coast and one on the west” — and that since “provinces can’t agree… you simply ignore them.” Instead, “you do a public referendum and you ask every Canadian to vote simply yes or no to a pipeline.”

Then there’s Quebec. In an interview Friday at the Manning Centre, O’Leary was asked about his French speaking skills, which are few. He argued that speaking French doesn’t matter, and besides, “the language that’s going to matter in the next election is going to be that of economics and jobs.”

OK, whatever.

We could spend the few minutes it might take to deconstruct those statements and disclose the weirdness inherent in each one — again, if we were to get into it. But that’s not the point, and O’Leary knows it. The point is Kevin O’Leary: conservative (or Conservative).

There have been comparisons made between O’Leary and Republican presidential nominee and human creamsicle, Donald Trump, which O’Leary has alternately both tried to dismiss and called “interesting”. And while O’Leary is right to point out that he is unlike Trump “in policy — foreign policy or domestic or social,” he’s wrong to think the comparison isn’t worthwhile to some degree.

O’Leary shares Trump’s sense of bombast, for instance — that outspoken ‘maverick’ business tone that contrasts to usual diplomatic political language. And they both have similar high opinions of their respective unwavering views of the world. Trump has said that, “apologizing is a great thing but you have to be wrong. I will apologize sometime in the hopefully distant future if I’m ever wrong.” On Friday, O’Leary told reporters: “I never have to worry about what I say because I only tell the truth.”

Most importantly, however, they — and this brash language they use to almost exclusively promote themselves as a distraction from policy weaknesses — are litmus tests for the ideological movements they claim to represent.

We all enjoy talking about Kevin O’Leary’s ridiculous statements, or what kind of bonkers society might be fostered under a Prime Minister O’Leary, but the reality is most of us aren’t responsible at the moment for giving Kevin O’Leary, and the views he holds, any credibility beyond his being a clickbait conversation starter. The responsibility for making him more than that lies squarely with conservatives and Conservatives.

It was not so very long ago that this very same Conservative party loudly warned Canadians against charlatans of convenience using political parties as platforms for simple self-aggrandizement, rather than for true national progress. They might be wise, at this juncture, to heed that advice.


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