Federal Conservative Party leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary speaks to party members in Kelowna. —Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News.

Conservative leadership hopeful Kevin O’Leary speaks in Kelowna

O’Leary says many Canadian premiers are “weak” leaders.

Kevin O’Leary has a message for Canada’s premiers.

The businessman running for leadership of the federal Conservative Party says any province that does not record three per cent economic growth will face “adult supervision” from a government he leads.

And he says he will use deductions in federal transfer payments to non-compliant provinces to exercise that supervision.

“Many of the (current provincial premiers) are weak leaders,” O’Leary told reporters after addressing 400 Conservative Party members in Kelowna Saturday.

His appearance in the city was part of an ongoing bid to persuade party members to vote for him in the upcoming Conservative Party leadership election.

When asked his opinion of current B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark, who is currently engaged in a provincial election campaign, O’Leary said he feels she has done “OK” except for what he called “one big lie.”

That lie, he said, is that the province’s existing carbon tax is revenue neutral. He said he believes the tax has not been revenue neutral since 2013.

Not only is O’Leary opposed to carbon taxes, he vowed to penalize B.C. financially if he was prime minister to make the province scrap its carbon tax.

“I will not tolerate carbon taxes or any punitive taxes against business,” he said.

The brash businessman, best known for his appearances on the Canadian business reality television show Dragon’s Den and the U.S. version, Shark Tank, told his Kelowna audience he is the best known Canadian in the U.S.—better known than current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—and, as such, it would be much easier for him to negotiate with the United States when it comes to revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal U.S. President Donald Trump claims has been a disaster for his country.

O’Leary, who referred to himself as Mr. Wonderful, a sarcastic nickname given to him by some of his Dragon’s Den business panel rivals, said it’s key for Canada to point out to the U.S. that millions of American jobs rely on NAFTA, Canada is the U.S.’s most important and largest trading partner and going after what Trump has described as Canada’s unfairly subsidized dairy industry will also hurt the U.S. dairy industry.

Later, when asked by reporters how his approach to doing that would differ from way the current Liberal government is doing that now, O’Leary dismissed Liberal officials as incompetent. He said he would replace them with competent officials.

He also told reporters he favours having the private sector pay for infrastructure improvements across Canada, not the federal government. And, if private companies are not interested in building infrastructure he said, “it’s not worth doing.”

Repeatedly during his speech, O’Leary, who has no political experience, zeroed in on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s lack of business experience as a reason Trudeau is not getting the job done leading the country.

And he vowed the Conservatives will “eviscerate” Trudeau in the next federal election, slated for 2019.

But to do that, he said the Conservatives need to win at least 40 seats in Quebec and need to do what the Liberals did so successfully in the last federal election—convince large numbers of young people to vote for his party.

O’Leary believes the Conservative leadership election has come down to two front-runners—himself and Quebec MP Maxime Bernier—despite the presence of 12 others in the race.

“One of us is going to win,” he predicted, adding if it’s Bernier, he will work to support him.

Ballots will be sent out to party members next week and the leadership election is next month.

One of the ways O’Leary said he is trying to engage people is through social media. He claimed to have four million followers on social media and said he uses the various platforms to speak directly to Canadians, bypassing traditional media.

While dismissing traditional media as irrelevant during his speech, he backtracked when pressed on the issue by reporters saying both social media and traditional media are required to get his message out.

“I’m happy to work with the media but I won’t let you define my message,” he said.

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