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.’
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→