Kevin O'Leary says attacks on him by Conservative leadership candidates are bringing badly needed excitement to the race, after Tory hopeful Lisa Raitt launched a website to stop the reality-TV star from entering the contest.
Ms. Raitt on Wednesday announced a new campaign website, www.stopkevinoleary.com, and took aim at both Mr. O'Leary and Conservative candidate Kellie Leitch, who has proposed the idea of screening immigrants for anti-Canadian values.
Ms. Raitt called Mr. O'Leary a "TV entertainer with absolutely no filter," and said both he and Ms. Leitch are bringing Donald Trump-style politics to Canada.
"Kevin O'Leary and Kellie Leitch are both taking lessons from what we saw just recently in the U.S. election, and they're embracing the style of negative and, I would say, irresponsible populism," Ms. Raitt told reporters.
"This brand of negative and divisive politics would drive our party right into the ground."
On her website, Ms. Raitt claims Mr. O'Leary supports a national carbon tax, insults soldiers and veterans, ridicules the poor and promised to imprison union members – and that his candidacy would allow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to govern for a generation.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Mr. O'Leary said the claims are "ridiculous," "completely incorrect" and "confused."
"She can say whatever she likes. I'll speak directly to the voting members myself and the Canadian constituents. I don't need her to interpret my policies for me," Mr. O'Leary said.
Still, he said her website, and recent statements about his looming candidacy from other leadership hopefuls, are welcome.
"We're getting some excitement in this debate, finally," Mr. O'Leary said. "We need it badly. We've been ignored by the public. If I bring some excitement to this, this is fantastic."
Mr. O'Leary said his exploratory committee has received some 22,000 responses since launching a website, www.OlearyforCanada.ca, and will decide "soon" whether he'll enter the race – although he seemed to suggest he will be joining.
Although the website only mentions Mr. O'Leary, Ms. Raitt urged Canadians who are also concerned about Ms. Leitch's policies to join her campaign. In a statement on Facebook, Ms. Leitch accused Ms. Raitt of standing "with the Liberals and media elites" and reiterated her pledge that every immigrant, refugee, and visitor to Canada receive a face-to-face interview with a trained immigration official. "I will protect Canadian values," Ms. Leitch wrote.
A Conservative campaign source said Ms. Raitt is attacking Mr. O'Leary because internal party polling suggests he is the front-runner – even though he hasn't officially joined the race.
In recent days, Tory candidates Erin O'Toole, Michael Chong and Andrew Scheer have all gone after Mr. O'Leary. Mr. O'Toole and Mr. Chong criticized Mr. O'Leary for his views on the military after the TV star said in a radio interview there is "nothing proud about being a warrior." Mr. Scheer urged Mr. O'Leary, who doesn't speak French, to enter the race before Jan. 17 to participate in the French-language debate.
There are currently 13 candidates vying for leader, after Daniel Lindsay dropped out of the race at the end of December. The leader will be chosen by Conservative party members on May 27. Candidates have until Feb. 24 to enter the race.
Responding to Ms. Raitt's website, Mr. O'Leary said he's never supported a carbon tax and "completely supports" the military.
"I've already [been] very straightforward on that and said I'm very proud of our warriors. I'm also very proud of our Canadian … peacekeepers. We're good at both," he said.
He called Ms. Raitt's suggestion the he ridicules the poor "outrageous" and said he's looking to help young Canadians out of work.
"I support any entrepreneur in Canada. That's my army. That's why I'm going to win this leadership race. And that's why I'll be replacing Trudeau. I don't want him painting any walls until my wife has seen the colours," he said.
Mr. O'Leary added that he's going to co-operate with unions "to make them more efficient." He's previously been quoted saying he'll make unions illegal, and anybody who remains a union member "will be thrown in jail."
He also took issue with being compared to Mr. Trump.
"I'm an immigrant. I'm half Lebanese, half Irish. I don't believe in walls. That's my not vision of Canada, never will be. I celebrate our multicultural country because I am part of it and I was given a huge opportunity," he said.
"I'm very, very lucky to be a Canadian. I cherish that. In fact I want to give back. That's why I'm getting into this race. It's not for the salary, I'll tell you that."