By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's self-appointed "Mr. Wonderful," a millionaire businessman and reality TV star who has proposed selling seats in the Canadian Senate, on Wednesday joined the crowded race to lead the opposition Conservatives, vowing to make Canadian business more competitive.
Kevin O'Leary, known for his appearances on reality shows "Shark Tank" and "Dragons' Den", where aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas, is often compared to U.S. President-elect Donald Trump in style, wealth and self-promotion.
"It's official, I'm in. The Conservative Party of Canada needs a candidate who can beat (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau and bring back jobs to this country!" O'Leary tweeted.
In a video posted on his Facebook page, the 62-year-old O'Leary spoke over a ringing siren, which he said was a warning about the impact Trump's trade policies would have on Canada.
"It means that we have to pivot, we have to be competitive. While he's lowering taxes, we're raising them. While he's eliminating carbon taxation, we're making it even more expensive to operate a business here."
O'Leary, who has no political experience and had been hinting at a leadership bid for months, dismissed any similarities with Trump but echoed his outsider pitch, saying his inexperience was an asset rather than a liability.
"I don't have a money problem. I don't have a name-recognition problem. I want to do what's right for the party," he told CBC television on Wednesday. "I don't owe anybody any money. I don't owe anybody any favors. I have never been a politician."
O'Leary offered few policy specifics on Wednesday, saying he plans to take "the best ideas" of other leadership candidates if he becomes party leader.
He is the fourteenth candidate in the Conservative leadership election, scheduled to be held May 27, 2017. The candidate chosen by party members will be their flag bearer for the October 2019 general election, against Trudeau's Liberals.
"I think he'll be a serious contender," said Frank Graves, president of pollster Ekos. "He's a good communicator, obviously, and he may well be able to catch this populist wave that propelled Trump and Brexit to victory."
An April Ekos poll showed that 17 percent of Conservative party supporters chose O'Leary as their preferred candidate, but the race has shifted since then.
Former government minister and surgeon Kellie Leitch has vaulted to the front of the race by pushing a hard-right "Canadian values" platform that taps into discontent over the sluggish economy and Canada's acceptance of 37,000 Syrian refugees.
University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said O’Leary will likely push a platform of smaller government and cutting regulations but would strike a different tone than Leitch on immigration.
"He’s going to be very liberal on immigration,” Wiseman said. "He himself is half-Lebanese and he makes a big point of that."
(Additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperney in Toronto and Sai Sachin Ravikumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Reese and Alan Crosby)