Businessman and reality television star Kevin O’Leary is dropping out of the federal Conservative leadership race and endorsing Quebec MP Maxime Bernier.
Global News has confirmed O’Leary is withdrawing around 4:30 p.m. ET, just hours before a final leadership debate was to be held on Wednesday night.
READ MORE: Kevin O’Leary woos Conservatives in Kelowna
On Monday, May 1, O’Leary tweeted a video explaining why he opted to drop out of the race.
The news is likely to send shock-waves through the campaign headquarters of the remaining 13 candidates. O’Leary was considered a front-runner in the hotly contested race, and had shown no signs of backing out ahead of Wednesday afternoon.
On Wednesday morning, he was still tweeting out calls for donations:
The Shark Tank star officially joined the race in January. In the months that followed, he faced repeated criticism for failing to show up to debates and for spending extended periods of time in the U.S.
WATCH: Conservative Party unity cannot be taken for granted: Scheer
His grasp of the French language, which is weak at best, was also an ongoing issue for his campaign. According to reports on Wednesday, O’Leary felt he could not secure the necessary support in Quebec to win the race.
“I can’t deliver Quebec. I can’t win. That’s my opinion. I wish it was different,” he is quoted as saying in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
Bernier will now likely become the main front-runner as the party’s membership gets set to choose a new leader on May 27. The ballots are ranked, with each voting member able to mark down their top 10 choices.
The party announced late Tuesday that it now has a record-setting 259,010 paid Conservative Party members, an increase of over 150,000 members from the beginning of January.