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The first thing to know about Kevin O'Leary is that he got his start in television producing Don Cherry's Grapevine. He knew showmanship when he saw it and, throughout the business and TV career that made him a star (thank you CBC), he has never strayed far from the Cherry formula.

Are Canadians ready for a shock-jock prime minster? Can a non-politician (Mr. O'Leary, now officially a candidate for the Conservative Party leadership, has never before run for office) first get elected to the top Tory job while effectively dismissing one of Canada's official languages as irrelevant? Are the 13 other Tory leadership candidates now shaking in their boots?

You betcha.

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Subscribers: Hot air: The truth about Kevin O'Leary's business history

From the archives: Kevin O'Leary: He's not a billionaire, he just plays one on TV

Don't underestimate the desire of a plurality of Canadians, an increasingly feisty people, to shake things up. We may not have a choice if Donald Trump's presidency unleashes seismic upheavals in the international order.

Canada, as Mr. O'Leary says, will have to "pivot" and Prime Minister Justin We-Need-to-Phase-Out-the-Oil-Sands Trudeau has yet to prove he gets it.

The global cognoscenti, including Canada's, seriously misread the mood of American voters last year, first discounting Mr. Trump's chances of winning the Republican nomination, then dismissing his shot at the U.S. presidency right until the results rolled in on election night. That mood did not reflect an economy that was failing the middle class so much as an utter revulsion toward politics-as-usual and political elites. It turned out that voters did not need to condone Mr. Trump's unorthodox, often ugly, rhetoric in order to see him as a change maker.

It was hard to spot a change maker on stage in Quebec City on Tuesday night. The French-language Conservative leadership debate, which the unilingual Mr. O'Leary conveniently skipped, had all the excitement of a funeral. Granted, fewer than half of the candidates could string together a comprehensible sentence in French. None stood out as leadership material.

Maxime Bernier, the favourite of the party's libertarian wing, could boast having the boldest policy platform. But can anyone really imagine him as prime minister? It's true many people said that about Mr. Trudeau until the 2015 campaign. But Mr. Bernier is an outlier, even in Quebec.

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At the opposite end of the Conservative spectrum – carrying the flag for what remains of the party's Red Tory faction – was Michael Chong. In a different era, he would be a compelling candidate – moderate, articulate, principled. But he would struggle to differentiate his policies from Mr. Trudeau's. There was a time when that wouldn't have mattered. That time is not now.

Lisa Raitt has the temperament for Canada's top job, was a strong performer in Stephen Harper's cabinet and would hit the ground running as leader of the Official Opposition. Besides, isn't it time Canada elected a woman to be prime minister? Still, Ms. Raitt, who entered the leadership race only recently, has yet to find her stride and explain what she stands for.

We know what she's against. Her campaign started a website – stopkevinoleary.com – portraying Mr. O'Leary as an interloper who insults veterans, union members and the poor. But the anti-O'Leary vote will split several ways. Her campaign needs a stronger narrative.

Andrew Scheer already has the Mr. Congeniality prize locked up. He's so sunny he outshines even Mr. Sunny Ways.

His strong caucus support – a quarter of Tory MPs are already publicly behind him – is impressive for someone with no cabinet experience or name recognition. His relatability – he's got a "dad body" rather than Mr. Trudeau's "yoga body" – would be a big asset with the Tim Hortons crowd. But likeability is no substitute for managerial credibility.

Kellie Leitch's message to voters just comes off as mean. That's unfortunate, because Ms. Leitch is not a mean person. But she has only herself to blame for hitching her campaign to the opportunistic gimmick of "screening" immigrants for Canadian values.

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Chris Alexander said he felt "uncomfortable" last month smiling while the crowd in front of him at an Alberta rally chanted "Lock her up," in reference to Premier Rachel Notley, who has imposed a carbon tax on her subjects.

"I was smiling because I was trying to think of a way to change the chant," Mr. Alexander insisted. He'll need to think faster to be leader.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. O'Leary does not always seem to think about what he says, yet has a knack for getting away with it. If you think his mad-as-hell shtick will never fly in polite and progressive Canada, you probably haven't been listening to your neighbours lately.

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