Kevin O'Leary disappoints some supporters by abandoning Conservative leadership race

Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Maxime Bernier, left, watches businessman Kevin O’Leary announce that he is withdrawing his name from the race to lead the party due to a lack of support in Quebec. Photo from CP.

Kevin O’Leary’s decision to exit the crowded federal Conservative leadership race was met with anger from a few supporters who wondered what would happen to the campaign donations he was soliciting only hours before he called it quits.

The brash television personality, perhaps best known for his roles on Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank, announced Wednesday that he was ending his leadership bid and throwing his support behind Maxime Bernier, who was polling at 14.19 per cent compared to O’Leary’s 26.32 per cent in a Mainstreet Research poll of more than 2,000 Conservative Party of Canada members taken between April 18 to 22.

O’Leary’s unexpected decision disappointed some of his supporters, who posted on his Facebook page and replied to his announcement on Twitter to say they had donated or joined the party specifically to support his candidacy.

“It was a huge disappointment to hear that you have dropped out of the CPC Leadership race Kevin. You let your supporters down in a big way,” a Twitter user from British Columbia named Mike wrote.

“You duped a lot of people like me into becoming CPC members then quit–pretty sleazy way to do business. You’re a clown,” Thomas McCahill told O’Leary on Twitter.

Mike Coates, a senior advisor for O’Leary, confirmed to the National Post that any funds left outstanding after campaign expenses are paid will go into Conservative Party of Canada coffers, but it is not yet clear how much that will turn out to be.

Of the more than 259,000 eligible voters in the party, O’Leary sold 35,335 memberships, according to a campaign statement released Wednesday. His campaign sent out a fundraising pitch as late as Wednesday morning, hours before his joint news conference with Bernier.

According to O’Leary, the decision to leave the race came because while he believed he could win the leadership contest, he didn’t think he could win a majority government in a federal election because his lack of French-speaking skills would hurt the party in the populous province of Quebec. Withdrawing his candidacy and throwing his support behind Bernier, who is polling well and has strong support in Quebec, gives the party the best chance to beat Trudeau, he said.

“The Conservative Party needs someone who has the best chance of beating Trudeau,” the businessman explained in a news release. “I’m withdrawing my candidacy from the Leadership Race and throwing my full support behind Max. I’m going to do everything I can to ensure he gets elected, and I’m going to ask my supporters to do the same.”

Bernier was the fundraising leader for the fourth quarter of 2016, bringing in more than $500,000, according to financial information released in late January by Elections Canada, Global News reported. Because O’Leary entered the leadership race on January 18, after the reporting period in question, his numbers weren’t included in the figures.

O’Leary claimed in a tweet sent April 1 that he had raised more than $1 million since his late entry into the leadership race, while data Bernier’s team provided to CBC News indicated his campaign had also brought in more than $1 million since the beginning of the year.

Figures for both candidates could not be verified before the next required release of fundraising totals by Elections Canada, which is expected at the end of April.

Voting for the next Conservative leader begins Friday, and the winner will be announced at the party’s convention in Toronto on May 27.