Kevin O’Leary comments cross a threshold of common sense and decency
By Patrick Vaillancourt, News Editor
A personal finance and business affairs commentator with a flair for controversy and sensationalist commentary has come under fire for comments made in a live broadcast which praised poverty.
Kevin O’Leary, who is co-host of the CBC News Network’s personal finance show The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, is now the subject of angry public feedback after a segment on the show January 20.
Amanda Lang, who is the show’s co-host and CBC News’ senior business correspondent, opened by stating a troubling fact about the gap between the rich and poor. Lang was citing a report titled “Working for the Few,” released by Oxfam, which claims that the collective wealth of the world’s 85 richest people is equal to that of 3.5-billion of the world’s poorest.
“This is fantastic news, and of course I applaud it. What could be wrong with this?” O’Leary said.
While the show’s producers understand that O’Leary can provide some very controversial views, even Lang was stunned by O’Leary’s comments on the world’s poverty gap, simply responding with “Really?” as she appeared at a loss for words.
O’Leary defended his comments by saying that the report should serve as inspiration to poor people to look up to the so-called “one per cent” and feel motivated to acquire their own financial fortunes.
“I celebrate capitalism… That’s the motivation everybody needs. … This is a celebratory stat, I’m very excited about it,” said O’Leary, while Lang argued that individual motivation is not the answer to abject poverty.
O’Leary is no stranger to television controversy and is a mainstay in business-themed reality shows such as the CBC’s Dragons’ Den and its American spinoff Shark Tank. In both shows, O’Leary is a tough negotiator who is merciless in his feedback to entrepreneurs and, at times, belligerent with some of his own colleagues on the show.
While many Canadians have expressed outrage over O’Leary’s recent comments, with some promising to boycott his show, CBC has yet to publicly release a statement on the matter. However, Robert Lack, executive producer of the Lang and O’Leary Exchange, responded to viewer complaints related to a controversy in October 2013 where O’Leary characterized one of the show’s guests as a “left-wing nutbar”: Lack said that the network embraces O’Leary’s role on the show and that the public should understand from that standpoint.
In his letter to Patrick McCurdy, a viewer who protested the comments and published the letter exchange on his personal blog, Lack wrote, “We expect Kevin O’Leary to be colourful, outspoken, and controversial.”
Outside of television, O’Leary is involved in a number of startups through his work on Dragons’ Den and is the co-founder and chairman of O’Leary Funds. O’Leary has a personal net worth estimated at $300-million.