Working with the Liberals on pharmacare legislation has been like wrestling eels covered in oil, as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh describes it.

Singh told a town hall meeting in Edmonton, where the New Democrats are holding a caucus retreat, that dealing with the federal government is "not fun."

"They're just slimy and break their promises," Singh said this week, getting laughs from the crowd.

"They say one thing and then try to get out of it, but we're not giving up and we're not backing down."

When the House of Commons returns on Monday, NDP members of Parliament say they will continue to press to get the bill drafted, with Singh calling the effort "the next big fight."

The NDP has been pushing for a system to cover Canadians' prescription medicines as part of its deal with the minority Liberals.

The New Democrats rejected a first draft of the bill back in September. Since then, the two parties have exchanged more proposals, but the NDP is withholding details and saying they will not negotiate in public.

Singh told the crowd that he took the eel description from his party's health critic Don Davies, who has been negotiating with the government on a framework bill.

He said the entire caucus agrees with the characterization.

#NDP leader @theJagmeetSingh says working with #Liberals on #pharmacare like wrestling with 'slimy' eels. #CDNPoli

Davies said he will leave those descriptions to Singh, but he is optimistic a bill will be tabled by the March 1 deadline.

The NDP is currently waiting for a response to its most recent proposal, said Davies, adding he expects to resume talks with Health Minister Mark Holland next week.

On Thursday, Holland said it was "disappointing" and "unfortunate" to hear that Singh referred to him as a slimy eel.

He said he takes great pride in being direct and staying true to his word.

"So I'm not sure what he's referring to. I'm sure it's just overheated political rhetoric. I get that there's some games to be played on that, but I think we should try to refrain from personally attacking one another."

Both parties have been working on the legislation for months, with both characterizing the negotiations as tough.

New Democrats said the government's first draft of the prospective legislation had left the door open for a mixed public-private system in which the pharmaceutical industry would continue to make "huge profits."

"We're battling for the proper way to deliver prescription medicine to Canadians, and that's through our public system," Davies said.

"The NDP have been very clear on this. We set down a very clear line in the sand."

In October, delegates at an NDP policy convention agreed to make pharmacare a red line in their confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals.

They voted to withdraw their support on key House of Commons votes if the minority Liberal government doesn't adhere to their demands.

Should the NDP pull out of the deal, that won't necessarily trigger an election. The party would instead handle each parliamentary vote on a case-by-case basis.

Holland maintains that conversations have been positive with New Democrats, but some "ambition" needs to tempered because the Liberal government is in a restrained fiscal environment.

"We have to cost things out. They have the advantage of being able to raise an idea and we have the disadvantage of actually having to dig through what is possible and what isn't possible," Holland said Thursday in Ottawa.

But Davies said the New Democrats are not looking for money at this point in the negotiations. They are focused on a foundation for a future program.

The confidence-and-supply agreement says a list of prescription drugs deemed as essential medicines must be in place by 2025, Davies said, followed by negotiations with provinces.

"We're not talking about any expenditure money for several years down the road," Davies said.

New Democrats ended their three-day caucus retreat on Thursday eager to advance pharmacare and other priorities, including housing, during the upcoming parliamentary sitting.

The NDP is trying to get the Liberal government to address housing needs for lower income households in the next federal budget, and discussions with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland are already starting, the party said.

The next big thing New Democrats are pushing for on that front, Singh said, is a national acquisition fund to help municipalities or non-profits buy buildings that are being sold off and use them for affordable or co-operative housing.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.

With files from Laura Osman in Ottawa.

Keep reading

I wish Jagmeet was more professional and wouldn't refer to the government as slimy eels. This type of campaigning is not necessary, and insures that I, and many others, would never vote for him or his party ever again.

Jagmeet seems to be feeling his oats lately and sounding more like the conservatives, the only truly "slimy" ones.
I listened to his speech at Ed Broadbent's funeral yesterday where he mentioned HIS NDP's contribution to "the struggle" (mantra of the party, also reflected in the assembly singing the hymn "Jerusalem," an odd focus generally, but particularly in the current context), specifically the dental plan, but still omitted the Liberals' considerable part in that, not to mention the mental balm/confidence and supply agreement itself.
OR the universal childcare, although not initiated by them, why not worthy of mention as another societal goal of the NDP?
Not the kind of "leadership" needed at this point I'd say.
He's already made that worthy play apparently but wants more now, so Don Davies' astute mitigation of the usual male hubris makes HIM look more qualified to lead what's never been more desperately required-- the union of progressives.

The Liberals have never, as far as I know, promised pharmacare, much less dental care.

"Promising" is foolhardy and unrealistic under the circumstances.
But they HAVE achieved childcare, the most consequential.

New Democrats said the government's first draft of the prospective legislation had left the door open for a mixed public-private system in which the pharmaceutical industry would continue to make "huge profits." Time to take profits out of health care and stop profit driven corporations from infiltrating public health.

Working with the Liberals on pharmacare legislation has been like wrestling eels covered in oil, as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh describes it. Jagmeet isn't the only one who has to speak in parables "because the people do not see, hear and understand."

It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake….H.L. Mencken:

"Evil? That's not just slanderous; it's patently ridiculous.
Especially in the real world context of the House of Commons where the current configuration democratically represents Canadian society at this time. Have you not noticed that a significant number are from the Conservative (Convoy) Party of Canada which means that they received MORE votes than the NDP OR the Liberals?
Reasons for that vary but the blinkered idealism of an NDP that has never actually been in charge of it all despite decades of effort just MIGHT have something to do with that.
And how have you failed to notice that their party's position on climate change denies the science DESPITE it manifesting almost exactly as predicted except now, in real time, and also denied the science of a new, dangerous virus AND the pandemic it undeniably caused, not to mention the top-drawer science of the VACCINES created for protection?!
And here's where Big Pharma comes in with the capability AND capacity to manufacture all those vaccines at the scale required.

So the conservatives don't do science, and the NDP doesn't do math.

As far as the pandemic that whatever it is is supposed to undeniably have caused ... the jury's still out on the cause. There are possibles and plausibles, but what so far seems plausible is in a book by Elaine Dewar, which doesn't take much filling in of blanks. I think it was The Atlantic that did an interview with her around the launch of the book, but it might have been the New Yorker.
The behaviours and beliefs ascribed to the NDP aren't theirs.

Since when is anyone second guessing what caused the pandemic, speaking of "anti-science?"
And "beliefs" ascribed to the NDP? That brings a religion to mind, which may be part of their problem when it comes to being taken seriously as a national governing party. It also speaks to the too earnest fervour of tribalism, so can be seen as the origin of the narcissism in the "narcissism of small differences" that they insist on indulging in, heads high. Look around for gawd's sake!
How do the NDP not see that dividing the left has never had more catastrophic consequences? Because the Liberals ARE ALSO on the left, bottom line?
And we ARE at a bottom line. The NDP truly need to get over themselves.

Liberals basically have the same progressive values so why not formalize that agreement?