Can Canada's Trump repeat the Donald's success?

Turning Points: Kevin O'Leary_00000413
Turning Points: Kevin O'Leary_00000413


    'Shark' takes a bite out of dyslexia


'Shark' takes a bite out of dyslexia 01:18

Story highlights

  • Kevin O'Leary of "Shark Tank" fame is vying to become Conservative Party leader
  • Sean Kennedy says it's possible Canada's Donald Trump can become prime minister

Sean Kennedy is a writer based in Washington. Previously, he was a US Senate aide, television producer and a fellow at public policy think tanks. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)After months of media hype, a political neophyte with strong opinions, a brash style and extreme wealth gets into the race.

Almost immediately, the reality TV celebrity is propelled to the top of the pack -- leading all contenders and in spitting distance of his political adversary across the aisle.
No, this is not the story of President Donald Trump's rise, but the story of technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist Kevin O'Leary of ABC's "Shark Tank" fame.
    O'Leary is running for the highest office in the land -- in Canada.
    The multimillionaire from Montreal's English-speaking minority grew up middle class, unlike the newly inaugurated US President, but embraces the path that brought the Queens-born real estate tycoon to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
    O'Leary's supporters are even selling Trump-like red hats with a slogan embroidered in white thread. Instead of "Make America Great Again," O'Leary's caps encourage the voters to return Canada's Prime Minister to his previous occupation, saying: "Make Trudeau a Drama Teacher Again."
    And "Shark Tank's" Mr. Wonderful is crushing his conservative Tory rivals out of the gate, too, with more than 50% of the party's voters in one poll backing him within days of his announced candidacy to become leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
    O'Leary does distance himself from Trump, who is deeply unpopular north of the US border, on policy such as a border wall. O'Leary told the New York Post: "We're both businessmen. That is the common thread. ... But I am nowhere near the same (as) Donald Trump on policy. I am half Lebanese, half Irish -- there's no walls. ... If there was a wall around Canada, I wouldn't exist."
    O'Leary even apes the nationalist rhetoric Trump displays, tweeting: "The Conservative Party of Canada needs a candidate who can beat Justin Trudeau and bring back jobs to this country!"
    O'Leary, who is threading a needle playing the role of both Trump in Canada and his foil on issues where Canadian and US interests diverge, was bullish last year on Trump's effect on the stock market, too.
    O'Leary said that the markets would "go straight up" if Trump took the White House. On that count, O'Leary (if he put his money where his mouth was) made the right bet as stocks have soared since the election of the American tycoon.
    But can O'Leary withstand the crowded field and slings and arrows like Trump did during the GOP primaries? Only time will tell.
    One thing that is different that may affect Canada's choice is how the Conservative Party leader is selected -- by members who have paid to join the party and who then have to show up to cast ballots and then wait hours for the final results
    A system similar to the Iowa and Nevada caucuses did not help Trump since only the most conservative, dedicated and organized candidates manage to make it past the caucusgoers. Trump lost most of the caucuses he competed in to other candidates despite his advantage in the polls.
    Another thing that will weigh heavily against O'Leary is his opponent, the attractive and affable scion of the Trudeau dynasty.
    Additionally, the Conservatives' last successful leader to assume the prime ministry was Stephen Harper, a traditional and reserved Canadian. He is a mild-mannered politician and man, a stereotype of Canadians.
    Then there's O'Leary's residency. In 2013, O'Leary called Boston "home" -- and it just might be his political death knell.
    Canadians are sensitive, to say the least, about their southern neighbor and the "brain drain" of their successful brethren. Palm Springs and Florida are fine to visit, but going full American is a no-no.
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    Former Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff was raked over the coals by his political opponents for assuming academic posts in the United States and Britain, even bragging about voting in the latter.
    It went down like a lead balloon in Canada, and Ignatieff skulked off into the Canadian political wilderness.
    Then again, Trump, who made "Buy American, Hire American" a rallying cry during his campaign, managed to get through -- despite making his clothing lines in much-maligned China and hiring foreign workers at his projects and resorts.
    Maybe O'Leary's fame and wealth might make Mr. Wonderful, Mr. Prime Minister after all.