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Michael TaubeMost of us assumed financial commentator Kevin O’Leary was considering a run for the federal Tory leadership in 2017. Until he unexpectedly announced that he might run for the Liberals.

What’s going on? The ultimate political game of cat and mouse, with O’Leary pulling the strings.

This past weekend, O’Leary spoke at the Manning Centre conference in Ottawa. He discussed the Canadian economy, his frustration with some politicians (including his favourite political punching bag, Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley), and claimed he would be Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s “worst nightmare.”

The largely right-leaning audience would have therefore assumed O’Leary was simply going through the motions that most potential leadership candidates follow.

Until this happened.

Not long after his speech concluded, O’Leary conducted a TV interview with CBC News Network’s Reshmi Nair. He claimed to be a member of the “Canadian taxpayer party,” stating that “I don’t think the old political brands will matter in the next election.”

“I can choose which party to actually run in,” O’Leary claimed, “because I think there will be a leadership race in the Liberal Party.”

That’s right. O’Leary, who everyone thought was a Tory, hasn’t ruled out running as a Liberal. (I guess he would be Morneau’s “worst nightmare” as a caucus member and not an opponent.)

The TV personality is, therefore, caustically attempting to do a bait-and-switch with political brands like “Tory” and “Liberal.” He’s trying to show that political ideas are more important than party labels, and will park his allegiance with the political outfit most open to this strategy.

Some people will be attracted to O’Leary’s rejection of the politics of old. Most will see through his smokescreen.

Like it or not, party labels and political brands serve an important function in democratic elections. While the politics of left and right are often blurred by parties and leaders, there’s a basic understanding of what individuals and groups stand for. The Tories, Liberals and NDP adjust their platforms from time to time, and occasionally propose ideas and strategies that are ideologically inconsistent, but that’s how it typically works.

Contrary to O’Leary’s belief, this understood political component isn’t going out of style with grassroots members. These are the people who ultimately pick the party leaders. They rarely want to hear from candidates who condemn the very nature of political branding that they helped devise, build and promote.

If O’Leary wants to be taken seriously as a leadership candidate, he can’t just claim to be a “Canadian taxpayer party” member – and nothing else.

Therein lies the problem. O’Leary always wants to be the centre of attention in business, and believes he can do the same thing in politics. Hence, Canada’s political parties should make room for his ideas because they’re better, bolder and brighter.

Yeah, whatever.

We all pay taxes, “Mr. Wonderful.” Some of us don’t mind doing it, and the vast majority hate it. Regardless, you’re going to have to fit your taxpayer ideology into a party philosophy and brand. It doesn’t work the other way around.

Meanwhile, O’Leary really doesn’t understand political strategy and communications.

Offering the oilpatch $1 million if Notley resigns is nothing more than a publicity stunt. His refusal to learn French, and belief you can “speak jobs and the economy” and “win every election,” as he told the Manning Centre, doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding. Claiming Canadians have the “moral authority . . . to be peacekeepers” and would prefer this to being “war mongers,” as well as displaying little enthusiasm to participate in the fight against ISIS, as he did on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Feb. 10, won’t win over most Tory supporters (although some Liberals might go for it).

That’s why it doesn’t matter whether O’Leary is a Tory or Liberal. He’s not ready for prime time in Canadian politics, and it painfully shows.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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