kevin wine

Kevin O’Leary has refused to commit to move back to Canada full-time if he’s elected leader of the Conservative Party.

He doesn’t seem to care about demonstrating an ability to speak French.

Despite the demands on leadership candidates, he’s continued to hock his wares. His wine can be purchased through the American home shopping network (if that unique desire for conspicuous consumption should happen to intersect with your desire for wine and to maintain that ass groove on your couch).

By various metrics, he’s not a serious candidate. And yet, he’s apparently leading in the polls among Conservative Party members.

Many journalists and pundits have made connections between O’Leary and Trump: O’Leary is, like Trump, a reality TV star who will challenge the status quo by the simple fact that he isn’t a party insider.

He isn’t a politician, he says.

It’s the same thing we heard from Trump during the primaries.

But O’Leary doesn’t stack up to Trump in a variety of ways. He’s not exactly the most racist candidate. He’s not quite the most extreme in his right-wing views. He’s barely even a Conservative, judging both by his membership history in the party, his progressive positions on social issues, and his donations to other parties.

It doesn’t take much to move from a Trump-O’Leary analysis to start adding up all the ways in which the comparison doesn’t work: O’Leary is missing the Ivanka factor, Trump’s fame gave him more credibility than O’Leary’s fame. Really, O’Leary is missing the most important elements: the faux-everyman-ism, the anti-immigrant, anti-Mexico, [white] nationalist, protectionist persona.

But there is a much better comparison to O’Leary’s candidacy: O’Leary is the Conservative Party’s Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

PKP, for the uninitiated, was leader of the Parti Québécois for a time. A short time. In 2014, he came into a more public life, placed his business holdings in a safe spot he could remember to return to and jumped head first into Quebec politics.

In April of that year, he won the riding of St-Jerome, north of Montreal. Just over one year later, he won the leadership race, replacing Pauline Marois. He was supposed to deliver success and, most importantly, government to the PQ.

He was seen as the guy who could revitalize the PQ. He had a stylish and equally famous partner. He came from money and a famous family. He won the leadership handily.

But PKP wasn’t a politician. He made ridiculous gaffes. His anti-union background made it difficult for elements of the labour movement who support the PQ to voice their support. His outsider status became a serious liability as the day-to-day grind of political life became too much.

After only two years, PKP resigned. It was abrupt and unexpected.

During his time as leader, not only did the PQ suffer as a result of his aimless and wandering tenure, but politics in general did too. The Quebec Liberals had the freedom to impose an austerity agenda that will hurt Quebecers for years to come. The PQ simply couldn’t hold the Liberals to account. From the left, the heavy lifting was left to the tiny group of Quebec Solidaire MNAs.

Under PKP, the PQ couldn’t get it together.

In politics, there are few shortcuts. A leadership race is supposed to be a grueling experience where party members can see how individuals perform under pressure. If you can withstand and succeed in this process, there are better odds that your leadership will be somewhat successful.

Part of that success must be tied to the experience one already has as a parliamentarian, of any kind or of any tenure. Sure, everyone hates a politician, but confronting corrupt politicians rarely means electing someone with zero political experience. While liars should be avoided and authenticity should be embraced, it’s foolish to think that the solution to the politician problem is to find someone who has never been tested under the fire of a hundred scrums, is familiar with at least some parliamentary procedure or who has never practiced the art of a perfect shit-eating grin in the middle of a live, televised debate.

If any Conservative Party members think that O’Leary’s record and stature would be a gold mine for the party, the socialist in me says: yes, go for it. Elect him with everything you’ve got and we’ll see you in the streets.

Because, a celebrity candidate with a campaign that is effectively vacant of policy will paralyze the Conservatives for a few years. And that might give Canadians the oxygen we need to have a proper debate about progressive electoral politics while watching a side show of hilarious proportions on the right, led by a wine salesman whose flight passes are for Toronto-Boston rather than Toronto-Ottawa.

At least he’s better than Bernier, Trost or, God Help Us, Leitch.

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.


Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association...