Kevin O’Leary Skips Conservative Leadership Debate, Holds Fireside Discussion

Former television star surrounds himself in debate controversy, cites issues with format

By: Brady Coyle, Staff Writer

Maria Broom’s character on The Wire, Marla Daniels, once told her husband, “You cannot lose if you don’t play”. It seems like that is exactly how conservative leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary is approaching Conservative leadership debates.

O’Leary pulled himself out of participating in the Conservative leadership, bilingual debate in Edmonton, on February 28. The TV personality turned politician, did not believe that the format of the evening allowed for true debate.

I have said from the beginning that it is a bad format to have 14 people on stage answering the same question with no back and forth,” said O’Leary in a news release. “It allows for no time for ideas to be examined, or any real debate to transpire.

This is not the first time O’Leary has been surrounded by debate controversy. He entered the conservative leadership race on January 18, one day after the final French language debate in Quebec City. Many saw this as a ploy by O’Leary, to avoid having to speak French publicly.

While O’Leary did travel to Edmonton, instead of participating in the debate, he held an “intimate fireside discussion” so that members of the Conservative Party could still engage with him, ask questions, and gather more information on his platform.

It may not be a concern of O’Leary’s, but he is certainly not making friends among the other candidates. Other leadership hopefuls have spoken out against O’Leary’s unwillingness to participate in debate, particularly given that his views on many election issues differ from traditional conservative outlooks.

Kevin O’Leary is afraid of facing the music when confronted by his rivals about his support for more gun control, marijuana legalization and pampering of criminals instead of victims,” said Steve Blaney, a Quebec MP.

It is easy to see why frustrations with O’Leary are high amongst other candidates. Not only was O’Leary’s entrance into the leadership race a mere month before the deadline, but other candidates had been campaigning for the better part of a year before O’Leary put his name on the ticket.

O’Leary has yet to attend a single Conservative Party of Canada-sanctioned debate — and his latest stunt means he will miss Edmonton tomorrow,” said Chris Alexander, one of the 14 candidates. “This is not the behaviour of a candidate who is serious about leading a party.”

Avoiding the debate in Edmonton did not only earn O’Leary scorn from his competitors. He was fined $10,000 for skipping out on the debate, as is Conservative Party policy. The party considered changing the format, however they need a minimum number of candidates to agree upon the alterations.

We did not receive a consensus on what format to use, so we kept format the same,” wrote Cory Hann, Director of Communications for the Conservative Party. “Our understanding is they [were] several short of obtaining a yes to the proposed change from the remaining 13 campaigns, so the format will remain the same.

Ari Laskin, O’Leary’s press secretary, released a statement saying that the fine will be paid using the $25,000 that O’Leary contributed to his own campaign. He promised that no donations from supporters would be used to pay off the fine.

Despite O’Leary’s frequent clashing with other candidates and continual avoidance of debates, polls indicate he is the front runner to lead the Conservative party into the 2019 election. The most recent poll conducted by Forum Research suggests O’Leary a safe bet to be the party’s next leader.

Kevin O’Leary’s entry into the Conservative leadership race has propelled him to the front of the field, with more than double the support of his nearest rival,” said Forum Research President Lorne Bozinoff.

O’Leary garnered 27% of the polls vote, leaving plenty of ground to be made up by candidates hoping to win leadership on May 27th. Interestingly, 38% of voters picked the category “someone else”, rather than the eight candidates listed in the poll.

While O’Leary may be the front-runner to lead the Conservatives against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, he certainly will not get away with debate dodging during the General Election.

If he continues with these antics as leader of the Tories, Liberals are sure to be telling voters that O’Leary is ‘Just Not Ready’.