Along with business journalist Amanda Lang — whom he calls “the best-looking communist on television” — he also co-hosts CBC’s daily Lang & O’Leary Exchange.
Love him or loathe him — and there are plenty of folks in the latter camp — Kevin O’Leary’s snarling mug is everywhere these days.
Like hockey loudmouth Don Cherry or real estate mogul Donald Trump, O’Leary’s bombastic, in-your-face style has earned him a kind of cult celebrity status.
The founder of The Learning Co., which he sold to Mattel for nearly $4 billion in 1999, O’Leary chairs a billion-dollar mutual fund empire (O’Leary Funds), boasts his own line of award-winning wines (O’Leary Fine Wines), and is the best-selling author of The Cold Hard Truth on Men, Women & Money.
O’Leary, a big believer in dividends and yield-focused returns, was in Edmonton on Tuesday to speak to a group of investors at the Art Gallery of Alberta. The event was hosted by TD Waterhouse investment advisor Greg Mailo, who kindly arranged for me to sit down for a chat with O’Leary before it began.
In person, O’Leary is far more charming and personable than he is on shows like Dragons’ Den, where he routinely slaps down hapless, would-be entrepreneurs with breathtaking curtness.
Still, he pulls no punches when it comes to blasting his favourite targets, from unions and green activists to deficit-strapped governments. Here’s a synopsis of O’Leary’s comments.
On the reasons for his own popularity:
“Everybody knows that I’m to the right of Attila the Hun. We don’t have a lot of Canadian personalities that are that way, and I think we could use a lot more of them. If I could clone myself, I’d do it. We need a lot more Kevin O’Learys in this country; I really believe that.”
On what’s wrong with Canada:
“Government — there’s too much of it. Too high taxes, and too many unions. Too much complacency breeds too much mediocrity, and it holds the whole country back. I’m tired of it and I want to do something about it. It doesn’t matter to me if people don’t like that message. I couldn’t care less. It’s a fact.”
On the Redford government and its budget deficit:
“Alberta is one of the richest geographies in the world and yet you’re running deficits. I mean no disrespect to any of the municipal or provincial politicians, but you’ve got a whole lot of mediocrity here. You don’t run deficits. You run this place in the way it should be, as a profit centre. It enjoys so many bounties that other places don’t have. How can you possibly be running deficits? If I were a taxpayer here I’d be out of my mind. I’d be outraged.”
On the importance of the oilsands:
“Look, there’s going to be a need for hydrocarbon energy for the rest of our lives, in perpetuity. Just try flying a solar-powered jet over to Ireland. So there’s always going to be a need for this commodity. We’ve already spent a fortune on capital expenditures (in the oilsands), it generates tens of thousands of jobs, it pays billions in taxes, and it is no dirtier than any other source. I don’t buy the argument there’s something wrong with this oil. Bitumen was always leaking into the Athabasca River. It’s a natural phenomenon. So I’m a huge advocate for the fact that we should be coveting this asset, not degrading it.”
On the need for oil pipelines:
“We are landlocked in oil. That’s a problem we should be solving. We should have a national pipeline policy that allows the (federal) government to build pipelines right through, just like they did with the railroads. This is an absolute must asset. So there is no debate with anybody. We’re just putting a pipeline through, end of story. If I were the prime minister, that’s what I’d do.”
On oilsands critics like David Suzuki and James Cameron:
“David Suzuki is the most dangerous man in Canada. He has degraded and discusses our (resource) assets as if they are a blight on our country, which outrages me. He and I share the CBC, but we don’t agree on anything. I respect him and I hope he respects me. But I absolutely think that his message is the wrong one that we should be teaching our children. And when I hear that a film director (Cameron) wants to come up here and debase the oilsands, how about we say there is no invitation. No thanks. We’re not interested in your opinion. The oilsands are a legacy for me and my children and we should be taking care of it and making it better. So I have a huge issue with them.”
On the future of the Chinese economy:
“They are on their way in my view, within the next 17 or 20 years, of being the premier economy on earth. So we in Canada need to reduce our dependency on North America because we have slow GDP growth here in perpetuity. The capital and growth has moved to Asia and to South America. So this goes back to the pipeline issue. We need to be selling our goods and commodities and services to the Chinese. And the way to do that is to get it to our ports, to provide long-term contracts, and open up trade agreements to South Korea, to India and to China, and stop worrying about trying to sell all of our goods to our great friend and neighbour to the south. We need to diversify.”
On the possible election of an anti-pipeline NDP government in British Columbia:
“That’s a disaster. That will just delay the inevitable. It’s a tragedy. And that’s why there shouldn’t be a provincial say in a national pipeline policy. If they vote NDP it’s going to be four years of darkness for those people.”