Arlene Dickinson, star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den, wasted little time putting her former co-star in his place when she was asked what she thought of Kevin O’Leary’s entry into the Conservative leadership race last week.
“For seven years, I sat shoulder to shoulder with Kevin,” she said. “We'd spend long hours together, listening to hardworking Canadian entrepreneurs pitch their businesses, which, all too often, led to real-life stories of enormous struggle.
“You get a window into somebody's character by the way they treat people, particularly those who are vulnerable and need help or guidance. Kevin's total lack of empathy toward these Canadians who put their heart and soul on the line, I can assure you, was genuine.”
O’Leary, of course, has been inspired by that other entrepreneur and pseudo-reality star, Donald Trump, into thinking that he can be prime minister of Canada. To be fair, O’Leary is not as repugnant as Trump, but like Trump, he comes to the campaign with name recognition and no credentials in politics or government.
His candidacy poses the same questions as Trump’s did. How much is real and how much is performance?
Trump’s campaign – angry and divisive, long on rhetoric and short on specifics – left many questions unanswered, including these two:
Does the man know what he is talking about?
Is he really going to practice what he preaches?
For example, is he really going to build a wall to keep Mexicans out? Is he really going to deport millions of undocumented immigrants? Is he really going to bar Muslims from entering the United States? Is he really going to tear up NAFTA? Is he really going to try to throw Hillary Clinton in jail?
With Candidate Trump, separating bluster from reality was never easy, and it is no easier now that he is President Trump.
His “American carnage” inauguration speech – alas, there is no lightness, no poetry in this president’s DNA – painted an uncompromisingly bleak portrait of the country:
“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories, scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
The facts – unemployment is away down, the economy is growing, and the rate of serious crime has been declining for most of the past decade – do not matter. As long as Trump believes in this dark portrait of America, he can justify, to himself at least, his “America First” prescription.
It’s a prescription that brings a chill to the corridors of Ottawa and any other capital that aspires to maintain productive diplomatic and trade relations with the United States.
“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” Trump told the crowd assembled at the Capitol. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. … We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and hire American.”
Does he mean it? Is ugly protectionism about to become the face that the United States presents to the world?
Perhaps equally important, is Trump, the billionaire who is the throes of appointing the wealthiest cabinet in U.S. history, for real when he presents himself as the champion of the suffering middle class? “I will fight for you with every breath in my body, and I will never, ever let you down,” he promises. “… We will bring back our dreams.”
Does Trump, to use Arlene Dickinson’s term, have genuine empathy toward the people he will lead? Or is he just a rich man toying with the hopes of ordinary people? The same questions might be asked of Kevin O’Leary.