Although he was at one point the front-runner, Conservative leadership candidate Kevin O’Leary has announced he is dropping out of the race.
After reports first surfaced online Wednesday morning (April 26), O’Leary took to Facebook with a statement confirming his decision, citing a lack of momentum in Quebec and weak second-ballot support as his main obstacles going forward.
Not an easy decision
“This was not an easy decision for me to make but after much thought and deliberation, it is the right one for the Conservative party and the country,” he wrote.
Today would have been O’Leary’s last leadership debate before party members could cast their vote. The announcement came as a surprise to some supporters, who had received a much more optimistic email signed by the candidate just hours prior.
“It’s your last chance to join our big fundraising push before I go on stage,” the email read. “I want to know you’re in my corner. I’m fired up, and I know you are too.”
Trudeau’s “worst nightmare”
Since joining the race in January, much of O’Leary’s campaign has focused on tearing down Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He even pledged to be Trudeau’s “worst nightmare.”
Speaking at Ryerson on Mar. 15, O’Leary had many criticisms of Trudeau. For one, he wanted to help Trudeau find his real calling “because running the country isn’t it.” In response to some people’s skepticism over his “business-first” persona, he also asked students, “Why don’t we bring some executional excellence to the business of running our country?”
While O’Leary told reporters on Wednesday afternoon he was confident in his abilities to win the party leadership, he added, “It’s not good enough to win the leadership if you can’t win the majority mandate.”
He continued this sentiment in his personal statement, writing, “The Conservative Party needs someone who has the best chance of beating Trudeau. Someone who will command the support of Canadians from every region of the country and who can build a consensus among all members of the Party.”
Earning votes in Quebec now was a crucial step for O’Leary to come out on top in the next federal election.
“Look at how many times Quebec has determined the federal outcome in elections in this country,” he said. “It is the Florida of Canada; it often decides for the country for the very reason it has 78 ridings.”
His support in the province was further dampened by the fact that O’Leary could not speak French.
Looking ahead, O’Leary named his now-former competition, Quebec-born Maxime Bernier, as the candidate who has the most in common with his platform.
“He is perhaps the first Conservative in a long time that has a chance of winning over 40 seats there, which would materially improve our chances for a majority mandate,” O’Leary wrote.
O’Leary wants his supporters to join him in backing Bernier and stated that “[t]ogether [they] will drive Justin Trudeau out of power in 2019, and [they] will work to get Canada’s economy growing at 3 per cent.”
Despite his insistence that relations with Bernier have been “friendly,” CBC News noted that after O’Leary and the Conservative Party cancelled over 1,350 fraudulent party memberships in March, Bernier accused O’Leary of using the incident to divert attention away from his “losing” campaign. “Kevin O’Leary is a loser. I’m a winner,” Bernier wrote in an email.
The Conservative Party leadership elections are on May 27. At this point, it is anyone’s game.