OTTAWA — As conservatives gather to recharge their political batteries in the wake of their fall federal election defeat, businessman Kevin O’Leary is seeking to spark things up on his own.
Though he declares he’s a political agnostic, O’Leary is mulling a run for federal Conservative leadership and he made the rounds Friday at the annual Manning Centre convention of conservatives, posing for photos, shaking hands and offering some of this thoughts on the direction of the country.
While the conservatives at the conference are debating all manner of issues like medical marijuana and environmental policies, O’Leary told a panel for leadership hopefuls that the economy is broken and until it’s fixed, that’s all anyone should be thinking about.
But he said it’s not enough to be a critic, alternate paths need to be offered. He proposed one — a national referendum on the construction of new oil pipelines.
“Ask every Canadian to vote and if there’s a 51 per cent majority, it’s over, it’s done, no politician will have the moral right to stop it from happening,” he said.
“And I think we should do more of this in Canada. We waste too much time bickering.”
O’Leary, a longtime businessman who shot to popular fame after getting into broadcasting, says it is still too early for him to formally throw his hat in the leadership ring.
He said his current goal is just to make existing economic policy more efficient and use the platform he has now to expose flaws in fiscal policies throughout the country, including those of the federal Liberals.
“I hope to make this a nightmare for politicians who think they can continue wastefully spending our money,” he said to applause from the crowd.
O’Leary was joined on the panel by longtime Tory MP Michael Chong, who is also considering a run.
Chong said if he ran, he’d be better at telling the Conservative story and putting forward innovative policy proposals in keeping with conservative values.
“If I run, I believe we need to broaden our tent,” he said.
He called for a debate around the issue of carbon pricing — a policy the previous government flatly rejected — and for a hard look at democratic reform, including making political parties more open.
Earlier Friday, O’Leary suggested he thinks the party system is finished.
What’s underway in the world is a populist movement in which people want politicians to solve their problems and don’t care about political brands, he said, predicting this will eventually manifest itself in Canada.
Preston Manning, founder of the Reform party, which many saw as a Canadian populist movement, still has faith in party lines.
He said the challenge for conservatives is to stay true to their values while expanding them.
There’s a generational change underway in the conservative movement, Manning said and this means the federal Tories need to find a leader who can unite different factions.
“Modern political parties are coalitions, there are different flavours of conservatism,” he said.
“…the challenge for leadership is how to find the common ground.”