| OTTAWA, April 26
OTTAWA, April 26 The contest to choose the next
leader of Canada's Conservative Party heats up on Wednesday with
the final televised debate of the long race, where a reality TV
businessman and a former foreign minister have emerged as top
contenders to face Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2019
The Conservative race to replace Stephen Harper, who quit
politics after his 2015 loss to Trudeau, has several parallels
to the 2016 Republican race in the United States, including
having more than a dozen candidates and a showy front-runner who
has offended party establishment.
With weeks to go before party members choose a new leader on
May 27, the race has boiled down to venture capitalist Kevin
O'Leary, and former government minister Maxime Bernier,
according to polls.
O'Leary, who gained fame as a brusque dealmaker on the
reality show "Shark Tank", has no political experience and
tenuous ties to the party but has held the spotlight due to an
outsized media profile and the support of Canadians who say the
businessman is a breath of fresh air.
"O'Leary stands out because he's aggressive and in their
minds, people can see him standing up and taking Trudeau on,"
said one Conservative insider who declined to be identified.
"But the guy doesn't know anything about politics."
Bernier, by contrast, is a second-generation politician and
former foreign minister, a libertarian free-market champion
whose previous brush with fame came when he was dumped from
Harper's cabinet after leaving confidential documents at the
house of a girlfriend with links to organized crime.
Populist immigrant-skeptic Kellie Leitch and current members
of Parliament Andrew Scheer and Erin O'Toole are also top
The vote will be decided by a preferential ballot that
redistributes second-place votes until there is a winner.
Bernier said that gives him the winning edge because, in his
view, the polarizing O'Leary is the second choice of so few.
"People like Kevin O'Leary or they don't like him," Bernier
said in an interview. "I have a lot of support for the second,
third and fourth choice."
Both men said they have raised more than C$1 million
($736,594) in the first three months of 2017, figures that will
not be officially confirmed for a few more days.
With 14 candidates, including several safe and experienced
mainstream members of parliament, analysts have been wary of
predicting a winner because even internal opinion polls have a
hard time figuring out how preferences will shake out on the
third, fourth, or fifth ballot required for one candidate to win
a majority of votes.
O'Leary, who has been attacked by opponents as a
non-resident who prefers living in Boston, says he is the best
man to deal with U.S. President Donald Trump and touts his
experience as a negotiator.
"People are tired of politicians. Trudeau has never run a
business, he's never had a negotiation like this," O'Leary said
in an interview. "I'm well known to Americans in America, and
I'm informed about the way they view Canada."
($1 = 1.3576 Canadian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Andrea Hopkins; editing by Diane