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The biggest winner in Liberal-NDP deal might be the next Conservative leader

Click to play video: 'The implications of the Liberals and NDP’s political pact'
The implications of the Liberals and NDP’s political pact
WATCH: The implications of the Liberals and NDP's political pact – Mar 22, 2022

Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen called the Liberals’ deal with the NDP “backdoor socialism.” Leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre suggested it was a “coalition attack on our freedom and our country.” Patrick Brown referred to it as a “nightmare.”

But away from the podiums and the social media indignation, some Conservatives were quietly thanking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh for striking a deal that could keep the Liberals in power through 2025.

“Three years to rebuild the party infrastructure, raise money, recruit candidates, prepare and road test policies. This is actually a huge gift to us,” one senior Tory campaigner, who agreed to speak to Global on the condition they not be named, said Tuesday.

“The more time Conservatives get to prepare, the more time (we) get to prepare.”

Read more: Trudeau confirms Liberals, NDP governance deal until 2025

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That’s because the next Conservative leader – whoever is chosen on Sept. 10 – can now bet on three years to rebuild the party, raise money and build up name recognition among the broader electorate.

Time is a rare luxury for a new opposition leader in a minority Parliament. Erin O’Toole had just a year between winning the leadership and facing voters in a general election. Andrew Scheer had roughly a year and a half. The Liberal Party under Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff had similar runways during Stephen Harper’s minority governments, with similar results.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says Liberals, NDP governance deal offers ‘stability’ for Canadians'
Trudeau says Liberals, NDP governance deal offers ‘stability’ for Canadians

But while the Liberal-NDP deal – which would see Singh’s New Democrats prop up the government on confidence votes in the House of Commons – could always collapse, the next Conservative leader is likely to have more time to get their own house in order before a general election.

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Read more: Jean Charest says he can win. But what do Conservatives want to hear?

Time is on the Conservatives’ side in another way. Trudeau told reporters that he still intends to lead the Liberal Party into the next election in 2025 – 10 years after his historic jump from third party to majority government.

Depending on the timing of that election, that could put Trudeau ahead of Stephen Harper and Jean Chretien on the list of longest-serving Canadian prime ministers.

Prime ministers and their governments tend to have a shelf life. Whoever leads the Conservatives into the 2025 election, they’ll be going up against a government that’s long in the tooth by Canadian political standards.

Click to play video: 'Liberals, NDP governance deal ‘nothing but a Justin Trudeau power grab:’ Bergen'
Liberals, NDP governance deal ‘nothing but a Justin Trudeau power grab:’ Bergen

Another Conservative strategist, who did not wish to be named, agreed that the Liberal-NDP deal gives the party both a cudgel to hammer the government – see Bergen’s comments about the supposed “power grab” – and as a much-needed reprieve from the grinding electoral cycle.

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While Singh’s decision to prop up the Liberals runs the risk of depressing the NDP vote in 2025, the strategist said, they believe it could also alienate moderate Liberals with the promises of new permanent spending on pharmacare and public dental coverage.

Read more: 9 in 10 Canadians want national pharmacare, Heart & Stroke poll finds

But there’s risk for the Conservative Party in opposing those two programs. Polling suggests that Canadians overwhelmingly support both a national pharmacare program and publicly funded dental care for those Canadians without private coverage.

A 2019 Ipsos poll for Global News found that 86 per cent of Canadians would support publicly funded dental care for the roughly one-third of Canadians not covered by dental insurance.

An Environics poll conducted that same year for the Heart and Stroke Foundation found that almost nine in 10 Canadians agreed Canada should have a national pharmacare program to provide equal access to prescription medicines for everyone.

Click to play video: 'NDP strikes deal to keep Liberals in power until 2025'
NDP strikes deal to keep Liberals in power until 2025

“Time can be helpful to the Conservatives, but only if we use it wisely,” said Melanie Paradis, a Conservative strategist who served as strategic communications advisor to O’Toole until June 2021.

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Paradis noted that Christy Clark and Kathleen Wynne both won elections after taking over from “increasingly unpopular long-serving Liberal premiers,” and warned Conservatives might not be campaigning against Trudeau in 2025.

“Beyond rebuilding the campaign war chest and introducing our new leader to Canadians, Conservatives need policies that respond to the evolving needs of Canadian families, including our own versions of dental care, pharmacare and childcare,” Paradis said.

It will be up to the next leader to choose the party’s tack on those two popular proposals. And just because that leader will have more time doesn’t mean they won’t have a lot to keep them busy.

O’Toole commissioned a 2021 election post-mortem report that found the party has significant structural issues to correct before the next election.

Read more: Erin O’Toole hoping for another chance after campaign review blames brand, data issues

That includes an overhaul of the Conservatives’ once-dominant data campaigning tool, known as CIMS. The Conservatives know they have fallen significantly behind the Liberals in modern data electioneering – voter identification and modelling. O’Toole’s response was to bring in an outside consulting firm, but sources said the report – conducted by former MP James Cumming – recommended developing in-house capabilities. That takes time and money.

Cumming also suggested the party needs to pay closer attention to attracting a diverse slate of candidates, as well as diverse staffers with different skillsets. The report also suggested the party has had significant “brand” issues since the failed 2015 campaign – another issue that takes time to address.

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While O’Toole’s detractors might have scoffed at the report’s findings, most would agree the party has some work to do between now and the next election. Thanks to Trudeau and Singh, they’ll also have some time.

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