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Kevin O’Leary: A poor man’s Donald Trump

In the world view possessed by celebrity investor Kevin O'Leary, the planet's economic problems would disappear if only there were business-friendly governments in charge.

The man who made a name for himself belittling and berating wannabe entrepreneurs on CBC's Dragons' Den decided to do the same this week to the Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley. Mr. O'Leary announced that he was prepared to invest $1-million in the province's energy sector if Ms. Notley agreed to resign.

The Toronto businessman blamed everything but the Black Death on the NDP government: layoffs in the oil patch, the plunging dollar, an exodus of investors. He suggested Ms. Notley was in over her head and likened the financial meltdown under way in the province to a "horror movie," one for which the Premier and her government deserved screenwriting credits.

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Shockingly, Ms. Notley declined to take him up on his proposal, choosing instead to point out that the last time a group of wealthy businessmen tried to tell Alberta voters how to vote, she ended up as Premier. This was a reference to a news conference held by a group of corporate leaders with ties to the Progressive Conservative Party just before last May's election. Albertans didn't respond well to the group's message, which could be best summed up as: Do you simpletons realize what you are about to do? Give your head a shake.

"If now we've got a Toronto wealthy businessman who wants to tell Alberta voters how to vote, I say bring it on," Ms. Notley said.

As tempting as it is to dismiss Mr. O'Leary as a poor man's Donald Trump, someone who thrives off the controversy he generates to produce the attention he craves, the fact is, he does represent a body of thinking out there, certainly as it pertains to Alberta. There are those in the Calgary business community in which Mr. O'Leary is so exalted who believe that what the province needs is a government that understands the laws of the financial jungle. A government that is conservative by nature.

The notion that only business-savvy people know how to manage in tough economic times is a conceit Canadians have rejected often over the years. Some of the Progressive Conservative governments that ruled Alberta over the past 10 years were conservative in name only. When it came to managing the public purse, they were some of the most spendthrift, undisciplined administrations the country has known.

The reason Alberta's economy is in shambles is not because the electorate voted for the New Democrats last spring; it's because the bottom fell out of the global oil market, pure and simple.

Mr. O'Leary's remedy for fixing things is to reverse the hike to corporate income taxes and nix the planned implementation of a carbon tax – both policies the NDP authored. But even as he is saying this, he must know his plan would fix nothing. It would make some cronies in Calgary's oil and gas towers happy, but that's about it. It wouldn't begin to reverse the devastation wrought by the worldwide commodities crash.

Ms. Notley should expect more of this. Mr. O'Leary's old partner on Dragons' Den, Calgary entrepreneur Brett Wilson, tweeted that he was heading to Saskatchewan this week with a group of Alberta business people to meet with Premier Brad Wall and learn "how to run a province." How nice. Mr. O'Leary and Mr. Wilson are nothing more than corporate bullies who can't abide an NDP government that is bringing in policies that should have been introduced years ago. The pair conveniently ignore the fact that over the years, there have been conservative governments in Alberta that were completely incompetent.

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Mr. O'Leary now says he is mulling a run at the federal Conservative Party leadership. Of course he is. After witnessing the success that Mr. Trump is enjoying south of the border in his run for the Republican presidential nomination, it's only natural Mr. O'Leary might fantasize about riding the same shallow, narrow-minded brand of populism to power.

Mr. O'Leary's verbal attacks on Ms. Notley may be only the beginning of what we hear from him over the coming weeks and months. His admirers will undoubtedly be urging him to run. With his ego, and the bully pulpit the Conservative leadership campaign would present, it may be an offer too good to refuse.

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About the Author
National affairs columnist

Gary Mason began his journalism career in British Columbia in 1981, working as a summer intern for Canadian Press. More

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