The View From Here – Cultural nuances can result in radically different outcomes in Canadian and U.S. politics

Tom Henihan
That Kevin O’Leary’s bid for the leadership of the Conservative party never gained traction in spite of all his bluster, points to a fundamental cultural difference between Canada and the US.

O’Leary personifies the American ethos of ruthlessness and luck, exemplifying the cutthroat corporate stereotype and Wall Street’s smug, sneering contempt for regular people.

He also champions the all-or-nothing lottery approach to life and success that replaced the egalitarian ideal, typified in the America of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Now success is acquired by lottery: there is the actual lottery, the sports star lottery, the Hollywood lottery and the music business lottery.

Unfortunately, there is no vocation or education lottery because those paths rarely deliver the coveted bonanza of excess and celebrity.

To be fair, Kevin O’Leary never seemed to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada other than announce that he was running: he avoided debate, was out of the country much of the time and puzzlingly, renewed his contract for the reality TV show “Shark Tank.”

It appears he thought there was no need to engage in the mundane, decidedly unglamorous business of actually campaigning,

It seems he believed that he needed to do was to put his name in the race and his minor celebrity status would take care of the rest.

When announcing his withdrawal from the leadership race when it became clear that he lacked the necessary support to be a serious contender, O’Leary, deflected this failure by saying, that with foresight he recognized he didn’t have enough support in Quebec to become prime minister.

Considering that he is from Montreal, this is something he should have known prior to entering the race.

What is important here is not that Kevin O’Leary has returned to his true spiritual home on American reality television but that a candidate such as O’Leary failed to capture the trust and imagination of members of the conservative party and Canadians in general.

Not many Canadians buy into the notion that simply because a person is wealthy and has a degree of celebrity that by default they are qualified to lead a political party or become prime minister.

This valuable political and cultural discretion exists on the left and right of the political spectrum in Canada.

Kevin O’Leary’s assimilated US perspective failed to realize that things are done differently up here.

Wealth and celebrity don’t usually happen by accident. Being famous and staying famous is a job, however vacuous.

Cultivating and sustaining celebrity requires narcissistic, all-consuming attention to one’s own image.

Wanting to be famous at all cost, by being either revered or reviled is not a healthy disposition for anyone especially someone with aspirations to lead the country.

The trend of celebrity morphing into political ambition is a reductive phenomenon.

Rather than bringing formulated ideas, passion, empathy and vision to political debate it brings instead the ubiquitous and devious concept “the brand.”

Brands have no dimension; they are backlit and superficial, all about association and connotation.

Commercial brands embellish the value of the products they represent by association with famous athletes, rock stars and actors without having to allude to the merits of the product itself.

Celebrities who try to transition into politics mistakenly believe their vacuous notoriety is also useful political currency.

Kevin O’Leary assumed that the O’Leary brand established by his association with reality television would transform by alchemy into political gold.

In the US, alarmingly that can work; in Canada, mercifully it reverts to dust.

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