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Kevin O'Leary, current contender for the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Kevin O'Leary's Capitalist Wager

By Feb 15, 2017

Image credits: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Riding on his own latent wave of populism, Kevin O’Leary has burst onto the Canadian political scene by officially entering the Conservative Party leadership race. Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign, which centered on the middle class, was not enough for some of Canada’s more cynically-minded citizens; it is against this populist-right inspired backdrop that O’Leary has staked his claim as Canada’s pro-business, anti-establishment candidate.

O’Leary is grossly incompetent for the job, yet he leads the polls in the Conservative leadership race by a wide margin. Supposedly, he reaches over one million citizens per week through social media and their positive responses led him to join the leadership race. He has never held political office, never studied political science or law and does not even hold his main residence in Canada. By touting his business persona, it is evident that a government under O’Leary’s leadership would serve primarily corporate interests, in the process likely increasing economic inequalities. His vision for Canada is a competitive, unforgiving country. He has publicly expressed his enthusiasm for a huge global wealth gap, citing it as a motivation for “hard-workers” to succeed. While blatantly ignoring other organizing factors of poverty, he also insinuates that a low quality of life can only be a result of one’s own choices. He believes with low corporate tax policies, Canadians dedicated to their own success will be able to become as rich as they would like.

A government elected under O’Leary then would represent only a portion of the population and alienate others.  

This surely leaves out Canadians who do not have the tools to dedicate themselves to the risky nature of entrepreneurship. During his speech at McGill University on Monday February 13th 2017, O’Leary cited 3% GDP growth as a necessary condition on which improvements could be made to healthcare. He agrees that improvements need to be made to the healthcare system, but asserts that this would only be possible if Canada achieves this level of growth. Canada’s GDP  grew by only 1.1% in 2015. According to O’Leary then, reform of healthcare (and more broadly other social welfare institutions) is frequently not possible at the moment. Simultaneously, Canadians are struggling with the shortcomings of Canadian healthcare. O’Leary frames the social needs of Canadians as dependent solely on economic growth. Certainly Canadians should not leave a matter as important as social welfare entirely up to GDP fluctuations which cannot be fully controlled even by the government. Economists would agree that we can never expect the market to be in a state of exclusively constant growth, therefore assuring the certain downfall of many Canadians in times of recession. It is especially in times of low GDP growth that the government should spend on its citizens. O’Leary completely rejects this idea by neglecting funding to governmental institutions who support those who need it.

Meanwhile, the strength of O’Leary’s political discourse is dependent on the shortcomings of other politicians based solely on their economic policies. He announced his arrival on the political scene last year in a provocative pledge to invest one million dollars into Alberta’s oil industry in exchange for Alberta premier Rachel Notley’s resignation. He blames the fall of the Canadian dollar on the failure to invest in oil, among other policies such as the carbon tax, despite scientists’ hesitation on the profitability of pipelines. He has since written open letters to Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne and Nova Scotia premier Stephen McNeil critiquing similar tax rates, citing them as a discouragement to the natural gas sector. Perhaps his largest venture has become his campaign platform aimed at the economic inadequacy of the Trudeau government. His narrow focus on the economy should make one wonder how he could run a country without considering every factor of government that affects its citizens.

O’Leary’s reticence to engage with the realities of political life should make Canadian voters equally reticent to support him.

In actuality, O’Leary has no idea how his policies will affect Canadians. He plans to travel the world even if he wins the leadership race. In response to suggestions that he seek a seat in Parliament, he has been quoted saying, “[t]hat’s a waste of time for me right now.” Constituency work is regarded as the most important part of a member of Parliament’s profile as it keeps them in touch with everyday Canadians. O’Leary’s reticence to engage with the realities of political life should make Canadian voters equally reticent to support him.  His intention to focus on the 18-24 age group may lead him to believe the use of social media is enough to connect him to Canadians despite his physical distance. However, this intention is largely based on the amount of Conservative votes lost to the more media-savvy Liberal party in the 2016 election. His focus then is on damaging the opposing party, as opposed to caring for the real concerns many older Canadians have regarding government. Additionally, Conservative voter age averages tend to skew higher and focusing his misguided efforts on the smaller group of millennials may not accurately represent values of the Conservative party. A government elected under O’Leary then would represent only a portion of the population and alienate others.  

His ignorance extends to the Canadian constitution, which should indisputably be understood by anyone who plans to govern the country. In a recent interview, he says the Senate should be turned into a “profit center”. Aside from the appalling idea that any legislative branch in government should be turned into a money maker, Emmett Macfarlane from the University of Waterloo also calls his idea “undoubtedly unconstitutional”. Yet, he refers to the constitution constantly. In his first official debate, he said, “[n]owhere […] in the Canadian Constitution does it say you have to tolerate mediocrity in government.” Such was his irrelevant response to a question concerning jobs in Atlantic Canada. To Kevin O’Leary, the constitution might as well be a prop to enhance his self-proclaimed excellence.

His disregard (or complete ignorance) for the conventions of our political culture seem only to point to his desire to turn Canada into his biggest business venture yet.

It is increasingly clear that he seeks nothing but power. O’Leary told the caucus he should be fired if he does not deliver a majority government in 2019. Superficially, it sounds like a bold proclamation of confidence. However, the absurdity of the comment is not left unnoticed. Would he forfeit his position in the election of a minority government? A majority government in Canada typically goes unopposed in passing legislation due to strict party discipline, while a minority government would have to seek compromises with other parties in order to gain a majority vote in the House of Commons. Furthermore, he has already said he would not be attending to his responsibilities as the official opposition if he wins leadership of the Conservative party. It seems he is uninterested in the democratic conversation fundamental to our parliamentary system.

The possibility of O’Leary becoming the next Conservative leadership is high. The other candidates have failed to distinguish themselves based on polls conducted before O’Leary’s entry. Canadians should be aware of the dangers of electing someone so unqualified for the position. His proposed mode of governance will not include all Canadians and it will certainly not reward all Canadians equally. His disregard (or complete ignorance) for the conventions of our political culture seem only to point to his desire to turn Canada into his biggest business venture yet.

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