It turns out that Kevin O’Leary wasn’t quite Mr. Wonderful for Canada’s Conservative Party.
Last week, on the brink of the final debate among the candidates to lead the party, the television star and businessman dropped out of the race. Arguing, oddly, that he didn’t think he could win enough votes in the French-speaking province of Quebec, O’Leary immediately endorsed Maxime Bernier.
O’Leary, the closest thing to a frontrunner in the Tory leadership race, has boosted Bernier to quasi-frontrunner status as Conservative party members begin casting ballots that will be counted by the end of May.
If Kevin O’Leary has his way, Donald Trump won’t be the only public official who won power as a businessman-turned-reality TV star.
From the set of ABC’s Shark Tank — produced by Mark Burnett, who also brought Trump to the small screen with The Apprentice — O’Leary hopes to wage a campaign to bring his brusque ‘shark tank’ mindset to Canadian politics, first to the Conservative Party, then by bringing the fight to current prime minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.
Unlike Trump, however, O’Leary will at least be able to say that he’s won an Emmy.
After months of consideration, O’Leary three weeks ago entered the crowded race to lead the Tories. So far, he’s a shark who is making a splash.
O’Leary, the son of an Irish father and small businessman, got his big break in business as the founder of Softkey, a Canadian software producer, riding the wave of growth in the personal computer industry that began in the late 1980s and exploded in the 1990s. O’Leary’s financial empire, over the years, grew to include everything from investment management to physical storage services. But his real claim to fame lies as one of the stars of Dragon’s Den, a reality TV show that launched on CBC in 2006. On the show, O’Leary portrayed a no-nonsense venture capitalist judging the projects of various contestants. (Sound familiar?)
Wildly popular in Canada and, indeed, one of the most popular television programs in Canadian history, Burnett picked up the concept for American television in 2009 and turned the series into Shark Tank, where O’Leary continued to hold a leading role and quickly assumed the nickname ‘Mr. Wonderful.’
No one will remember Brian Pallister’s nearly decade-long career in Ottawa as a backbench Conservative member of the House of Commons as particularly distinguished.
Over the course of eight years, Pallister never once served as a minister in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet. His most pivotal moment, until tonight, may have come in 1998 when, as a rising legislator in Manitoba’s provincial assembly, he waged a challenge for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party. He lost handily to former prime minister Joe Clark. Pallister eventually transitioned to federal politics as a legislator for the Canadian Alliance, a more socially conservative and western-based alternative to the Progressive Conservatives — and a party that ultimately effected a merger with the Canadian Alliance in 2003 under Harper’s leadership.
Pallister returned to provincial politics in 2012, winning an uncontested leadership bid for Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives, and for the past four years, that’s meant playing the role of inoffensive alternative to Manitoba’s premier, Greg Selinger, who angered even his own party’s caucus when in April 2013 he reversed a campaign pledge and raised the provincial sales tax from 7% to 8%.
Tonight, however, Pallister becomes the first leader of a provincial Conservative or Progressive Conservative party to win power in the era of prime minister Justin Trudeau. He’ll join another small-c conservative, Brad Wall, who two weeks ago won reelection to a third term as premier of Saskatchewan under the banner of the center-right Saskatchewan Party.
He’s bespectacled, he’s boring and he certainly fits a stereotype of a practical prairie square, campaigning across his province in a Chevy pickup truck.
In the era of Justin Trudeau selfies, Brad Wall doesn’t even have an Instagram profile. In a world that seems to have polarized into ideological extremes and eschews the ‘establishment,’ he is running on an avowed platform of ‘more of the same.’
With Liberals ascendant at the federal level and Liberal or leftist governments in power in each of Canada’s other provinces, he leads the only conservative government left across his country.
But on Monday, when Saskatchewan voters go to the polls, they are almost certainly reelect Wall and his ‘small-c’ conservative party, the provincial Saskatchewan Party, to a third term — probably by a nearly two-to-one margin over the nearest opponent, the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP). Polls give Wall’s party nearly 60% of the vote and with it a chance to retain or even increase its 49-member caucus in Saskatchewan’s 58-member Legislative Assembly.
Wall, who consistently ranks as Canada’s most popular premier, is in some ways a throwback to the pragmatic Progressive Conservative Party of the 20th century, a conservative focused squarely on business-friendly policies with a healthy share of humility about government’s ability to effect sweeping change. In his first term, Wall took pains to acknowledge that Saskatchewan’s boom had more to do with global commodity prices than with his own wizardry. Voters, facing the pinch of low oil and gas prices in a province that depends on natural resources, seem willing to give Wall the benefit of the doubt now that Saskatchewan’s economic fortunes are slumping though.
In his first two terms, Wall, personally and politically the personification of prudence, deployed $2 billion in revenues, on top of his government’s budget surpluses, into the province’s Growth and Financial Security Fund. Under Wall, Saskatchewan has reversed a population decline — so much so that it’s now attracting residents at some of the highest levels in the county. Wall has also been careful to place Saskatchewan’s priorities over ideological concerns, going out of his way to maintain official neutrality in the last federal election, though it must have been clear to anyone that Wall’s views aligned most naturally with then-prime minister Stephen Harper.
Among his peers, Wall is perhaps the most powerful defender of Canada’s oil interests, more so than even oil-rich Alberta’s NDP premier Rachel Notley, elected last May. He’s defended Canada’s projected oil pipeline projects and promoted Canada’s energy economy with such vigour that Maclean’s last month dubbed him ‘Alberta’s other premier,’ acknowledging that Wall has become, and will be for some time, the most powerful and influential voice of the Canadian right in national or provincial government. That’s not to say that Wall is a climate change-denier, and he has even shown that’s he open to small steps toward reducing carbon emissions, if not the sweeping kind of carbon tax that Alberta’s Notley is implementing. (Wall is nonetheless careful to add that any tax measures on the largest carbon emitters should take effect only after Canada’s recession, not today.) Continue reading Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall is Canada’s unofficial opposition leader→
The headline across Newfoundland and Labrador is that it will, once again, have a center-left government after a widely anticipated Liberal rout led by the incoming premier Dwight Ball.
The headline across Canada, however, is that the Liberal Party (or provincial-level Liberal parties, some of which have greater or lesser affiliation with the national party) now controls every provincial government in Canada with two exceptions — Saskatchewan, where premier Brad Wall’s center-right Saskatchewan Party dominates politics and will likely return to a full third term after provincial elections in April; and Alberta, where premier Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party ousted a 44-year Progressive Conservative Party in May.
The November 30 provincial election leaves no Conservative or Progressive Conservative government in any of Canada’s provinces.
Ball’s Liberals won 57.2% of the vote to just 30.1% for the Progressive Conservatives, who even narrowly lost in the provincial capital of St. John’s, the Tory stronghold. It was the strongest Liberal victory in the province in 49 years (though not as strong as former premier Danny Williams’s Progressive Conservative rout in 2003), and it marked the most dramatic swing in the province’s electoral history.
In any event, though Newfoundlanders have been expecting a return to Liberal government for a while, it marks something of an apogee for the Canadian left just over a month since the country elected prime minister Justin Trudeau and a majority Liberal government. The most immediate post-election Forum poll from mid-November gave the Liberals a whopping 30-point lead — 55% of voters support Trudeau’s Liberals to just 25% for the Conservative Party and a staggering 12% for Thomas Mulcair’s New Democratic Party.
So the Trudeau honeymoon period is well underway, as he grapples with climate change in Paris with other world leaders and begins to implement a new policy direction for Canada.
Ball, a former pharmacist who lost his first attempt to win a seat in the General Assembly in 2003, subsequently won a by-election contest in 2007 by a margin of just 18 votes in the northern electoral district of Humber Valley. After the Liberals failed to win the 2011 provincial election, Ball was appointed as interim leader, and he won the permanent leadership in the December 2013 leadership race. Ball’s platform included a promise to end Davis’s plan to raise the provincial sales tax from 13% to 15%, even though revenues are set to decline with global oil prices and, accordingly, the province’s newly found oil wealth. Continue reading Liberals sweep Newfoundland and Labrador→
So far, the race to succeed Stephen Harper as the next leader of Canada’s Conservative Party has been notable for the level of disinterest it’s drawn — not a single candidate has yet announced a campaign for the leadership.
Despite wild speculation about who might want to take the reins of Canada’s soon-to-be opposition, some of the most well-known potential contenders have already ruled themselves out of contention — former Québec premier Jean Charest (himself a one-time leader of the old Progressive Conservative Party), former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord, Saskatchewan’s wildly popular two-term premier Brad Wall, former foreign minister John Baird.
But there’s one potential candidate who isn’t being coy about her intentions.
It’s Michelle Rempel, a 35-year-old MP from Calgary who’s been in office only since 2011. Born in Winnipeg and of partial French Canadian ancestry, she worked in development at the University of Calgary before jumping to politics, winning the by-election when Jim Prentice left federal politics for the private sector (and before Prentice returned to provincial politics for a disastrous run leading Alberta’s government). She quickly made a splash in the House of Commons and in 2013, Harper recognized her talents by appointing her as a junior minister for western economic diversification.
In an odd — and at turns, confident, caustic and compelling — Twitter rant in the middle of the night on October 22, Rempel made the case for her potential leadership, sometimes making the case against casual misogyny in everyday politics that would make Hillary Rodham Clinton proud.