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Kevin O’Leary enters Conservative race, won’t yet seek Parliament seat

Kevin O'Leary arrives at the 2015 American Music Awards in Los Angeles, California November 22, 2015.


Kevin O'Leary is entering the Conservative leadership race, but he doesn't plan on spending too much time working in Ottawa if he wins.

The businessman-turned-reality-TV-star said he won't seek a seat in Parliament right away and, even if he wins the leadership on May 27, he may even continue filming his American reality TV show.

"I don't know what I'll do on television. It doesn't take many days to shoot Shark Tank, and it's the benefit that I reach millions of young entrepreneurs," Mr. O'Leary said in an interview on Wednesday.

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Whoever wins the Conservative Party's vote will take over as leader of the 97 MPs who make up the House of Commons' Official Opposition.

Mr. O'Leary said Wednesday he spends 181 days a year outside the country, not just in the United States, but also in Shanghai, Hong Kong and London.

"The plan is to stabilize the Canadian economy, and then go back to all of those places where I've worked a lifetime and tell them we're open for business," he said

He said his priority, if elected leader, is to crisscross Canada and win back support from voters aged 18 to 35 – something he said the party needs to win a majority government in the 2019 election.

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"I am not going to seek a seat. That's a waste of time for me right now," he said.

Mr. O'Leary made the comments hours after announcing his candidacy in a brief video on Facebook, joining a crowded race that now includes 14 candidates running to replace Stephen Harper. The announcement also came the day after the French-language debate in Quebec City.

Mr. O'Leary, an anglophone from Montreal who said he spoke French until he was 7, said he is going to "immerse" himself in the language.

"I'm working very hard on that, because I got that message directly from the Quebec caucus," he said.

"I completely understand their concern, and I must become more proficient in French, particularly preparing for the debates with [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau two years from now."

Ontario MP Lisa Raitt, a rival for the party leadership, has been fiercely critical of Mr. O'Leary. Before he joined, she created a website,, designed to debunk Mr. O'Leary's policies. She said both he and candidate Kellie Leitch, who proposed screening immigrants for "Canadian values," are bringing divisive politics to Canada.

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Leadership candidates Erin O'Toole, Michael Chong and Andrew Scheer have also targeted Mr. O'Leary. Mr. O'Toole and Mr. Chong criticized Mr. O'Leary for his views on the military after he said in a radio interview there is "nothing proud about being a warrior," a comment he later reversed. Mr. Scheer urged Mr. O'Leary to enter the race in time to participate in Tuesday's French-language debate.

Mr. O'Leary's late entry also means he is behind many candidates in terms of fundraising and signing up new members before the March 28 cutoff date.

Mr. O'Leary said his past comments in a Toronto Life article in which he called Conservative members "losers" do not reflect his policies as a leadership candidate.

"What I've said in the past as a columnist on entertainment television has nothing to do with the policies I'll be putting forward," he said.

Mr. O'Leary said Mr. Trudeau should have reversed several key policies, including a carbon tax and other tax changes, when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

He also expressed his support for gay and lesbian rights and the legalization of marijuana, and said he wouldn't reopen the abortion debate.

"We've made a decision as a country and we're going to leave it the way it is. That's a decision that women make on their own. It's their business, it's not mine," he said.

Mr. O'Leary's leadership team includes campaign manager Chris Rougier, who worked under Doug Finley, the late Conservative party strategist who helped orchestrate Stephen Harper's rise; Andrew Boddington, former executive director of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party; and fundraising chairman Perry Dellelce, a corporate finance lawyer.

Conservative strategist Mike Coates, a longtime Conservative volunteer who helped Mr. Harper with debate preparation, will remain campaign chairman.

A Conservative Party spokesman said the party has not yet received Mr. O'Leary's official paperwork and the $75,000 fee required to enter the race at this stage. Mr. O'Leary said Wednesday his application was en route to Ottawa.

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