If Maxime Bernier wins Conservative race, the biggest winners may not be the Conservatives

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      The Conservative leadership race could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to federal New Democrats.

      That's because the possible election of Maxime Bernier as the replacement to interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose offers the NDP a chance to set itself apart from the pipeline-supporting Justin Trudeau and the medicare-destroying Conservative frontrunner.

      Make no mistake: under Bernier, a rabidly libertarian MP from Quebec, the Conservatives would be eager to get the federal government out of health-care funding. If the Conservatives were elected under Bernier, he would likely rip up the Canada Health Act, which requires provinces to meet legislated requirements in return for federal funding in this area.

      A Bernier government would allow every province to go it alone in health care. The provinces would receive additional tax points to fund health services. Further health-care privatization would be on the table, even though it's opposed by many Canadians.

      So what does Trudeau offer? Pipelines and more pipelines in an era when rising greenhouse-gas emissions have already contributed to major flooding in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, and Kelowna in recent years.

      Trudeau talks a good game on the climate but when the fossil fuel hits the road, he mostly supports the objectives of Alberta politicians. Their motto may as well be "Burn baby Earth, burn."

      Bernier's also popular in Alberta, especially among those who share his reluctance to accept the scientific consensus that human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are creating the triple threat of extreme weather events, flooding, and forest fires.

      As B.C.'s recent provincial election demonstrated, the political axis is shifting from a left-right dichotomy to a divide between those who put climate change at the top of their concerns and those who don't.

      Trudeau, like Bernier, is clearly in the latter category. One of the NDP's leadership candidates, Peter Julian, puts the climate first, as does Green Leader Elizabeth May.

      Julian also speaks excellent French. If he's elected NDP leader, he has the potential to resonate with Quebec voters who disapprove of the climate-change con artistry of Trudeau and the climate-change denial of Bernier.

      I expect that over time, more of Julian's caucus colleagues will come around to his way of thinking on this issue and it could be the issue that defines the NDP leadership race.

      That's because millennial voters, in particular, have a greater tendency to be climate voters. And their political influence is rising. Moreover, many feel sold out by Trudeau on this issue.

      So while the Conservatives might soon be popping corks after the election of their new leader, the real celebration should be going on over at NDP headquarters. That's because if Bernier wins, the NDP will be the biggest victor.