Kevin O'Leary visits N.L.: Vows to invest, create jobs and end 'negative growth'

1 / 5
Kevin O'Leary visits N.L.: Vows to invest, create jobs and end 'negative growth'

Reality TV star and Tory leadership candidate Kevin O'Leary said he can end the current economic malaise in Newfoundland and Labrador, during a visit to the province Thursday.

O'Leary is making campaign stops in St. John's and Gander, the first of a cross-Canada tour.

Before his events, he went on CBC's St. John's Morning Show to pitch his economic plan for the country and for the Atlantic Canada region — which unanimously rejected the Conservatives in the last federal election.

"What I've said to Newfoundland and what I've said to all Atlantic Canada is that I would invest more money here. If I can spend a dollar to create a job, I'll spend more," O'Leary said on the show.

"I want to grow Atlantic Canada at three per cent. You show me what you want to create jobs and I'll invest. That's the plan."

Culture of defeatism

O'Leary, who made a name for himself on shows like CBC's Dragons' Den and The Exchange, said he disagrees with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's 2002 remarks that in Atlantic Canada, there's "a dependence in the region that breeds a culture of defeatism."

While donning a sealskin coat, O'Leary blamed the economic troubles in Newfoundland and Labrador on incompetent provincial and federal leadership that isn't laying the groundwork for a viable economy to grow.

"I haven't met a person in Atlantic Canada that doesn't want a job, that doesn't want a better future for their children," he said. "They are just chained to a ball and chain of weak leadership that doesn't know how to grow the economy."

Oil and gas

O'Leary said one of the main things hindering growth in the province is what he feels are unjustified fears about extracting oil and natural gas.

He said people don't realize that extraction technology has evolved over the last several years, and that those advanced techniques have proven completely safe in places in Saskatchewan and Texas.

"There are billions of dollars sitting there – thousands of jobs – and you're asking Canada 'Look, let's not do that, let's just stay in slow to negative economic growth and just ask for more money,'" he said.

"I'd rather spend more money. Give me a chance to invest more in Atlantic Canada. Let's strip away those regulations. Let's get that going."

Changing seasonal economy

With regards to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who work for part of the year in seasonal industries and then draw employment insurance for the remainder, O'Leary said that mentality can be overcome by utilizing new technology.

"That is an attitude that can be corrected. We don't only have to have cyclical activity," he said.

"Particularly with fishing there are ways to harvest halibut, for example, 24/7 in farms."

He also pointed to other industries that the province could pursue that may be outside the current paradigm, such as how video game developer Electronic Arts moved a digital development office to P.E.I.

John and Ches Crosbie attend

Among those who went to O'Leary's event at the Capital Hotel in St. John's on Thursday was former Lieutenant Governor and politician John Crosbie and his son Ches Crosbie, who has expressed interest in running for the provincial Tories.

"We're lucky that he's a candidate. I'm pretty sure he'll do well if he keeps going as he is," John Crosbie said following O'Leary's speech.

"We're in very difficult financial shape in Newfoundland and what we've got to do is get people to work, and particularly the young people. I'm supporting anyone that I think can do a good job, which includes our guest here today."

Other supporters

MUN political science student Zack Seaward was at the Capital Hotel to show his support for O'Leary's run, telling CBC he regrets voting for Justin Trudeau in the last federal election. 

"He understands it better than our current leadership, and I think he's the strongest candidate in that regard," he said.

Also in attendance was former conservative candidate Mike Windsor, who rejects comparisons between O'Leary and U.S President Donald Trump.

"He's no more like Trump than Trudeau is a leader," he said. "Yes he's successful in business, so is Trump, so is a lot of other people in this room. That's the only comparison I would see."

Meanwhile, O'Leary said his plan is to continue to try to drum up support in Atlantic Canada and across the rest of the country in the coming weeks and months.

"I'm going to win the leadership race and then I'm going to shine the light of transparency and competency on Trudeau. I'm going to make his life a living hell for two years and then in 2019 it's not going to be an election, it's going to be an exorcism," he said.

"You won't remember his name 100 days after I get there."