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Former 'Dragon' Kevin O'Leary leaving CBC to join CTV; starts next month

TORONTO – Kevin O’Leary, controversial business pundit and co-host of “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange,” is leaving the CBC for rival network CTV.

After eight years with the public broadcaster, O’Leary said Tuesday that he wanted a larger platform to spread his message supporting free market capitalism.

“This is going to be a great opportunity for me to work with platforms like Marilyn Denis, ‘The Social,’ even BNN, CP24. These are all where Canadians get their news and I want to be part of that dialogue,” he told The Canadian Press.

O’Leary officially starts Sept. 1 and will make regular appearances on various CTV shows including “Canada AM,” “eTalk,” “The Marilyn Denis Show” and “The Social.”

He will also provide commentary on BNN, Bell Media’s financial news channel, and be heard on radio stations 580 CFRA, CJAD 800 and Newstalk 1010.

O’Leary, 60, began his television career on BNN and left the network for CBC in 2009 to launch “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange” with Amanda Lang.

The duo debated the top business stories of the day, with Lang often providing the opposing view to O’Leary’s staunch support of free markets.

Lang will take the helm of a new business program replacing “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange” on CBC this fall.

O’Leary, an investor and businessman, said the CBC’s ongoing budget struggles had nothing to do with his decision to jump ship.

“Television is not where I make my living. It’s not my primary source of income. To me, it’s more: ‘Can I be a part of a dialogue?'” he said.

“I want to help Canadian entrepreneurs, that’s number one. I want to increase the dialogue we have in this country about capitalism. That’s incredibly important to me because in the last couple of years we’ve started to vilify the role of business leaders and that to me is deplorable and it’s a huge mistake.”

He said he was “very proud” of the public broadcaster for bringing him aboard as a fiscally conservative voice.

“There was a time in my life that you wouldn’t have heard the right wing from the CBC. That’s all changed. I’m right-wing as Attila the Hun. Everybody knows that. So to let me have a platform and to work with it in that way was an honour.”

His remarks on “The Lang & O’Leary Exchange” occasionally sparked controversy, such as when he called an Oxfam report that showed the 85 richest people in the world had the same wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest “fantastic news.”

O’Leary said that audiences shouldn’t expect him to tone down his bombastic style of commentary any time soon.

“You can go back and look at anything I’ve said and from my point of view it’s always been the truth, and sometimes people are uncomfortable with that. I don’t care. That’s not my job, to worry about their feelings,” he said.

“In terms of financial literacy, what I’m trying to do is save them money. When it comes to capitalism, I’m trying to protect the core of our economy and what makes our country great.”

Asked about his comments regarding the Oxfam report, he said the report actually showed that poverty had been reduced over the past 30 years — which he credits to the rise of global capitalism.

“I don’t celebrate poverty. That’s ridiculous. What I want to point out is that when we have people who become immensely wealthy, who become the one per cent, what we tend to forget is that they created hundreds of thousands of jobs,” he said.

“They paid billions in taxes. They support hundreds of thousands of families and they provide goods and services to all of us that make our lives better. Why aren’t we talking about that?”

Earlier this year, O’Leary announced he was leaving the CBC reality series “Dragons’ Den” to focus on his role on its American version “Shark Tank,” which airs on CTV and ABC.

Bell Media president Kevin Crull welcomed O’Leary to the network on Tuesday.

“Kevin is an engaging personality whose savvy advice and strong business acumen will be of great interest to our viewers and listeners,” he said.

Jennifer McGuire, CBC’s general manager and editor-in-chief of news, thanked O’Leary for his contributions in a statement released late Monday.

“While sometimes controversial, you could always count on him to provide honest insight and a unique perspective. It’s been a pleasure working with him and I wish him all the best in his new ventures,” she said.

The CBC is facing ongoing budget struggles due to federal budget cuts, flagging television advertising revenues and the loss of hockey rights to Rogers Media. The network plans to eliminate 1,000 to 1,500 positions over the next five years.