Canada at times suffers from an inferiority complex. We look at our brash, bold, successful neighbour to the south, and we want to be just like her. Now we have our chance.
Businessman and reality television star Kevin O’Leary announced yesterday he is in the running to become the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (and our next prime minister). Somehow it seems fitting that, after flirting with the idea for more than a year, he throws his hat into the ring just before another reality TV star becomes President of the United States.
O’Leary is no Donald Trump, though the comparisons are being made. He is an outspoken multimillionaire businessman with no political experience, but seems more even-tempered than President Trump. Certainly he hasn’t disparaged as many different groups, though I am told he can be harsh at times (I’ve only seen his show once). As a celebrity, he will inject some public enthusiasm into a race most notable for the number of entrants. He’s the 14th declared candidate, with the vote scheduled for May 27.
Should a poll be taken today, there is no doubt in my mind that O’Leary would be the frontrunner. He has name recognition and his brash style is appealing. However, should the vote be held today, I doubt he would finish in the top five. He’s going to have to work really hard to have any chance to win in May. We don’t have a primary system, which Trump used very effectively on his way to the White House. For O’Leary it won’t be that easy.
Under the American system, you are what you say you are. Want to vote in the primary? Declare your allegiance and cast your vote. It doesn’t work that way here.
Not only do you not register as supporting a particular party, but here if you want to vote for party leader you must purchase a membership. It’s only $15, but it certainly whittles down the number of eligible voters. Most people don’t value democracy enough to become party members.
And, while Donald Trump was able to self-finance his campaign, Kevin O’Leary can’t. He has the financial resources, but Canada has election financing laws. The most O’Leary can donate to the campaign is $1,550, the same as any Canadian. He’ll have to convince other people he is worth supporting.
I’m tempted to go out on a limb and say he can’t win, but it might be a little early for such certainty. But I would be vastly more surprised at an O’Leary win than I was at Trump’s victory. Our national mood is different. I can see Canadians supporting a non-politician, but I would expect such a candidate to have other civic and community engagement on their resume. It is tough to imagine that voters in Quebec, a quarter of the country, are interested in a leader who does not speak French, especially since he timed his entry into the race for the day after the only French-language debate of the campaign. Canada has also had a recent history of rejecting candidates who live in Boston, where O’Leary has been residing for a number of years.
Having re-read what I just wrote, I’ve changed my mind. I will go out on a limb and say Kevin O’Leary will not be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. He’s waited too long to build a winning organization.
For the next few months though he will deliver political entertainment like this country hasn’t seen in a long time. For a few months we can put our inferiority complex aside. For now at least, we have our own version of Donald Trump.