It’s not often that Canadian businessmen make comments bombastic enough to garner attention in the American news cycle, but Kevin O’Leary is determined to change that. The business tycoon and television personality (sound familiar?) shot to the front pages of every news site in Canada for promising to invest $1 million into Alberta’s oil industry. (Yes, you read that correctly: one million, with an “M.”) His offer came with a single demand: the resignation of Alberta’s premier, Rachel Notley, a social democrat who stunned political observers in May 2015 by ending a 44-year-old conservative political dynasty in the province.
“I’ll put the first million down,” said O’Leary in an interview with Newstalk 1010, a conservative radio station based in Toronto. “Please, I’m asking her please, please step down, do it for the sake of Canadians, do it for the sake of all of us.”
O’Leary has made a name for himself by being something of an anomaly in the Canadian landscape: a public figure who is solely obsessed with the accumulation of capital and little more. He rose to fame as one of the investors in Dragon’s Den, the Canadian version of Shark Tank, where for eight years he eviscerated inventors who didn’t agree to his business terms. In his own words, during a bizarre episode on SqueezePlay, a show he hosted years ago, “I need dough and I need dough every month. You got to pay Daddy number one.” In January 2014, he celebrated the fact that 85 people were reported to have as much wealth as the poorest half of people in the world. “It’s fantastic and this is a great thing because it inspires everybody, gets them motivation to look up to the one percent and say, ‘I want to become one of those people, I’m going to fight hard to get up to the top.’ This is fantastic news and of course I applaud it,” he said. “What can be wrong with this? I celebrate capitalism.”
O’Leary dislikes politicians like Notley for a very simple reason: He can’t turn a profit as easily when she enacts policies like raising corporate tax rates, prioritizing climate change policy, and refuses to cut social spending. And despite the fact that Alberta is suffering from a deep recession, she has remained fairly popular among her constituents. Polls give her a 50 percent approval rate, even with the continued collapse of both the provincial oil industry, Alberta’s primary export; a $5.9 billion deficit she inherited from the previous government; and the specter of 2016 shaping up to be yet another year of economic recession for the province.
There is little to suggest O’Leary isn’t contemplating a Trump-like path to national notoriety. His sales pitch to the Albertan public — the investment of $1 million in a stricken oil industry, in return for removing their elected premier — is little more than an attempt at grabbing attention. The Albertan oil economy had $27.2 billion worth of investments in 2012, so $1 million is barely even a drop in the bucket for the industry, even in these troubled times.
Andrew Leach, a business professor at University of Alberta, came to a similar conclusion, saying in a tweet, “If Kevin O’Leary gets a five or ten of his closest friends to join him in that investment, they might be able to drill and complete a well.”
To further illustrate the absurdity of O’Leary’s offer, which sounds very similar to an offer made by a similarly obtuse Dr. Evil, Leach tweeted, “Tomorrow, Kevin O’Leary will tackle high property values in Toronto by selling a 2 bedroom condo, but only if Wynne AND Trudeau resign.” He was referring to Ontario’s Liberal premier, Kathleen Wynne and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Indicating that he may be taking a cue from The Donald’s success, O’Leary is now considering a run for the leadership of the Conservative Party. The Conservatives led the country for nearly a decade under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper before Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party swept last October’s elections. “I don’t know if he’s maybe inspired by the successes in the short term that Donald Trump has had in the United States. But he’s a person with some strong opinions who if he wants to offer them in public life, I think he’ll find it a very different environment,” said James Moore, a former Conservative cabinet minister. “But I think people will be interested to hear what he has to say.”
Alberta’s premier, however, isn’t backing away from the businessman’s apparent disregard for democracy, trying to buy her out of elected office. She tapped into the resentment Albertans sometimes display when given orders from Canada’s Toronto elite, of which O’Leary is a member. “The last time a group of wealthy businessmen tried to tell Alberta voters how to vote, I ended up becoming premier,” she said.
O’Leary is an odd figure in a progressive nation. He made his name as a voice of the Canadian right wing, once telling Chris Hedges that Occupy Wall Street protesters “can’t even name the names of the firms they’re protesting against.” His never-back-down posture on Dragon’s Den, the show that introduced him to the public, earned him a date with a stranger in the Toronto airport once, who called him a “total asshole” to his face. It’s reportedly a favorite anecdote of his, one that let him know he “made it.”
Notley, on the other hand, comes from a social justice background. Her father was the leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP), the left-wing Democratic party, for nearly 20 years, at a time when the NDP was barely hanging on to life in the province. She spent years in Vancouver working on labor law and social justice reform before returning to Alberta to enter politics. And Notley has not been in denial about the state of Alberta’s economy, nor has she ignored the flagging oil industry, (a charge her critics have lobbed at her). It’s hard to ignore the loss of 40,000 jobs in a province of 4 million people. But at a time of low oil prices, there is very little the premier can do given that the economy has been so reliant on oil for so long. However, the solution is not to promote the overthrow of democratically elected leaders.