Five Conservative leadership candidates visit Norfolk
Emma and Marika Heemskerk, employees of the Delhi German Home, pose for a photo with reality TV star and Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopeful Kevin O'Leary during a candidate forum Tuesday night in Delhi. O'Leary was joined on the night by fellow leadership contenders Lisa Raitt, Pierre Lemieux, Erin O'Toole and Andrew Scheer. JACOB ROBINSON/Simcoe Reformer
Say what you will about Kevin O'Leary, the guy can draw a crowd.
The reality TV star joined four other Conservative Party of Canada leadership hopefuls for a candidate forum at the Delhi German Home Tuesday night.
When speeches concluded, several of the almost 200 local Tory supporters in attendance flocked to the self-proclaimed 'Mr. Wonderful' seeking a handshake, or in the case of some youngsters, a picture with the former Dragon's Den personality.
It's young voters O'Leary sees as the key to both the upcoming leadership race and the next election.
“(Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) was able to spend 15 months going to colleges, universities, technical schools and getting people between the ages of 18-35 to do something they've never done - vote. He got 82 per cent of them to vote for him,” O'Leary told the crowd.
“He empowered a whole new generation that's become the most powerful force in Canadian politics.”
O'Leary told party members he's the one to bring those young people into a Conservative way of thinking. He also claims to be directly responsible for over 35,000 new memberships to the CPC in the last few months.
“That's my biggest benefit to the Conservative Party has been what I've done in membership sales – unprecedented in the number of new members between that age of 18-35. We don't want to give that up,” he said afterwards, quickly vowing to support the winner of the race regardless of the outcome.
“I've already said to them all, whoever wins this thing, I'm going to work very hard to get Justin Trudeau kicked out of there. I will be doing everything I can to make sure this momentum continues.”
Joining O'Leary on the night were fellow candidates Lisa Raitt, Pierre Lemieux, Erin O'Toole and Andrew Scheer.
O'Leary isn't known for attending functions with his competitors, but O'Toole – who before becoming MP for Durham rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Canadian Air Force - sees them as a crucial part of the process.
“Since I entered the race six months ago I've been to more ridings and spoken to more members of our party than every other candidate in the race,” O'Toole said. “You've got to be willing to work, you've got to be willing to meet and connect with people where they are.”
An advocate for Canadian farmers as well as anglers and hunters, O'Toole feels a track record of success both in the public and private sector, as well as politics, will play a major role in the proceedings.
“We're not going to win people back by saying outlandish things or trying to divide one part of Canada against another,” he said. “We have to win Conservatives that voted for us in 2008 or 2011 but for whatever reason left us in 2015. I think my mix of backgrounds will bring them back.”
Haldimand-Norfolk MP Diane Finley was on hand but has remained neutral throughout the leadership process while being part of the party's organizing committee team.
Finley called Tuesday's gathering “very special” and said she cannot recall a race that saw so many top candidates meet in Haldimand-Norfolk.
Each one got an opportunity to speak about immigration, agriculture and Canada's aging population while some, like Lemieux, also ventured into the realm of free speech.
“It was nice to hear them have more than 10 minutes at a time to speak so we got a much better sense of who they are and what they stand for,” Finley said.
One major issue thrust into the spotlight since Donald Trump took over as U.S. president is how each candidate would negotiate with the former Apprentice star. O'Leary assured everyone he wouldn't be pushed around when speaking with the Trump, or members of his office.
“I'm certainly going to be taking a business approach to how this country is run because it's so poorly managed it's unbelievable,” O'Leary said in a media scrum. “Justin Trudeau is an incredibly weak manager and it's becoming evident and Canadians are very concerned.”
Earlier in the night, O'Leary posed a simple question to the crowd.
“Who do you want negotiating with Trump after this next election, do you want Bambi or do you want me?”