Have Conservatives in Canada Found Their Own Trump?

On January 17th, Shark Tank investor and multi-millionaire businessman Kevin O’Leary officially entered the race for Tory leadership in Canada. His decision to run came months after researching his odds of winning while publicly flirting with the idea. Now that he’s jumped in, Conservatives in Canada finally have something to look forward to.

O’Leary appears to be an outstanding economic candidate. He likely won’t pander to the left economically as Conservative politicians in Canada are so fond of doing. Instead, O’Leary is running on a platform that focuses on lowering taxes, reducing regulations, encouraging entrepreneurialism and cutting back on government spending. One focal point he makes is addressing the mounting debt that Canada’s younger generation is incurring under Trudeau. Canada is now expected to run budget deficits for the next 38 years.

As I noted in my article "What Trump Could Mean for Canada's Economy," if Canada doesn’t respond to a more competitive America under Donald Trump, an economic storm will be-a-brewin’ up north. O’Leary has echoed this, rightly exclaiming that Canada has a responsibility to compete with America now that Trump’s running the show. Canada was able to get away with high regulation and non-competitive tax rates because Obama was largely doing the same. Not anymore. O’Leary’s plan is to make Canada competitive in the global market by attracting foreign investment and reinvigorating Canada’s declining and aging workforce. He also promises to break down the barriers impeding Canadians from starting businesses. Although he hasn’t even won Conservative leadership yet, O’Leary is already eyeing Justin Trudeau and the Liberals in the next federal election.

Given O’Leary’s history as an investor on Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, it’s evident that he maintains a relationship with your everyday business owner just looking to pay the bills; you can’t quite say that about many politicians nowadays. Not only does he interact with them regularly, he actually risks investing his own money into their business. If that’s not proof he believes in your average Canadian, I don’t know what is.

It’s been less than two years into Trudeau’s reign, and Canadians are already firmly aware that their Prime Minister understands economics like a blind man understands color. On his propagandist trance across Ontario last week, Trudeau was repeatedly lambasted for the new carbon tax imposed by his liberal comrade and Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne. Canadians outside of Ontario have also expressed their concern regarding Trudeau’s decision to force all Canadian provinces to impose carbon taxes by 2018. Even more, he was grilled for turning Canada’s $1.9 billion budget surplus (that was left by the Conservative’s) into a $34 billion budget deficit.

However, unlike Trudeau, O’Leary appears to genuinely believe that the government sucks at most things related to the economy. He rightly understands that Canadians are ultimately worse off when tax dollars are redistributed back into the economy because they first must line the pockets of the government bureaucrats who “make it work”.

If Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den are any indication of O’Leary’s character, the man is not afraid to both call out something wrong, and also call out the person or people doing the wrong thing. He can’t help but rip into an entrepreneur when they pitch a poor idea or when their business is failing. One line he says often is, “You need to take this idea out back and shoot it.”

He knows that blunt honesty and hard-to-swallow truths are ultimately better for the struggling entrepreneur than appealing to their feelings and omitting what needs to be said. He appears to feel a moral obligation to protect entrepreneurs from the infatuation of simply owning a business regardless of its measure of success.

“A lot of people see me as the harsh guy on Shark Tank; it’s so not true," he said. "Would you rather have me lie to you because, I’m worried about your feelings? I don’t care about your feelings; I care about your money. A Shark that is disingenuous, that tries and keeping you feeling good, when they know your idea as no merit, is doing you a huge disservice.”

Now, as far as his campaign goes, O’Leary is an investor in CNBC, his show airs on ABC, and he was formerly a commentator at CBC; so while he is a little late on the ground game, he has his fair share of influence and attention in the media.

Yet, even though O’Leary appears to be a great fix for Canada’s economy, there are still some unchecked boxes that need filling. After all, being Prime Minister entails more than addressing economic issues. For example, O’Leary hasn’t said much yet regarding ISIS or the conflict in Israel. This is a red flag for some Social Conservatives. At the same time, if O’Leary doesn’t have a certain agenda regarding foreign policy, he will likely delegate a lot of the responsibility to military experts and foreign advisors. It’s possible that O’Leary sees military spending as wasteful, but note that Canada not being involved in militaristic affairs internationally is in no way analogous to America not being involved in militaristic affairs internationally. His stance regarding refugees and immigration is also still unknown.

On the more explicitly liberal end, O’Leary has voiced his intention to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. He also supports assisted suicide if the physician is willing to perform it.

He has said that he is impartial to same-sex marriage. His justification jives with a more libertarian trope. “Anything to do with your happiness as an individual, the state has no right to be in your bedroom. I don’t care if someone wants to marry a goat,” he said. Hyperbole or not, this has left many Social Conservatives uncertain about O’Leary despite the movement being more or less a lost cause in Canada.

Whether you like O’Leary’s social views or not, Canadian SoCons shouldn’t be so quick to throw away a candidate who can easily stiff-arm Trudeau’s predictable cries of homophobia, racism and bigotry. O’Leary is already being labeled as the Trump of the North, so being armed with ammunition to dispel narratives of bigotry will only benefit Conservatives. Also, it’s possible that many Liberal swing-voters would feel more comfortable jumping ship if they knew the Conservative candidate was socially liberal. Regardless, economic issues are waaay ahead of social issues on O’Leary’s priority list, so it’s highly doubtful that the cis-white male venture capitalist is going to become Canada’s second consecutive social justice warrior Prime Minister. SoCons need not worry.

All in all, Canada needs a dosage of economic realism more than anything else, and Kevin O’Leary seems to be the person to do just that. Will he make Canada wonderful? It’s a little early to tell - he hasn’t even won the leadership yet. Nevertheless, Canadian’s certainly have a reason to be optimistic. While his social and foreign policy stances are rather cagey at this time, Kevin O’Leary seems like the perfect candidate to energize Canada’s rather flaccid and abating economy.

You can watch O’Leary explain his plans for Canada here and here. You can listen to him explain his story on Shark Tank here.

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