The woman who co-chaired the Conservative Party of Canada’s 2015 unsuccessful election campaign said Sunday that leadership front-runner Kevin O’Leary doesn’t understand the party membership and would divide Conservatives.
Jenni Byrne, who was widely criticized for contributing to the former prime minister Stephen Harper’s loss to Justin Trudeau in the last Canadian federal election, said the “Shark Tank” TV personality and cross-border entrepreneur doesn’t understand the Conservative “base,” something Byrne was sometimes cited for not comprehending.
“Although people remark that he is very Trump-like, he’s actually completely the opposite,” Byrne told the CTV News Sunday news magazine Question Period.
Byrne praised Trump because he “knew his voter coalition, he knew the out-of-work steelworkers and autoworkers in Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio, and he spoke to them every single day… He knew who his base was,” she said.
But she says O’Leary hasn’t bothered to understand the people who vote Conservative and that could be fatal for a party that was reconstituted just over a decade ago.
“He has dismissed the war on terror, he’s insulted the military, so he’s coming in as someone completely the opposite,” Byrne said.
“It will be a challenge for anyone coming in, in terms of keeping that coalition together. And I think that for the reasons we’ve said, I think Kevin O’Leary is the candidate that probably least understands that.”
In a series of interviews with The Daily Caller, O’Leary specifically said that he does understand the Conservative Party because he spends much of his time meeting with the membership on speaking tours. O’Leary also said that he doesn’t want the party espousing social conservative causes — a position he shares with Byrne, who always discouraged Harper from campaigning on — or even publicly discussing — issues like abortion.
In an email to CTV News, O’Leary spokesman Ari Laskin dismissed the criticism and suggested that Byrne remained close to Erin O’Toole, an Ontario Member of Parliament (MP) and former veterans affairs minister who is also running for the party leadership.
“Our campaign does not believe in fighting with other conservatives,” Laskin wrote.
With just under two months to go in the leadership campaign, O’Leary is facing increasing attacks from the Conservative Party establishment. Last week, former defence minister and the newly elected leader of the Alberta Conservatives, Jason Kenney, said O’Leary isn’t qualified to be leader because he doesn’t speak fluent French. Byrne also picked-up on another theme that O’Leary’s establishment critics frequently visit: O’Leary’s address in Boston and his U.S. commitments.
Byrne claimed that Liberal strategists are “salivating at the thought” of O’Leary winning the leadership because he will be depicted as being detached from Canada because of his heavy interests in the U.S. In spite of her criticism, Byrne says she doesn’t deny O’Leary’s claim to selling more than 30,000 new memberships in the Conservative party and admits that he might win the contest.
The leadership vote is scheduled for May 27 and will feature a preferential ballot where second and third choices could well compete with the two front-runners, O’Leary and Quebec MP Maxime Bernier.
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