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Liberals pledge $4.5B for mental health; will create transfer for provinces, territories

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WATCH: Canada election: Trudeau promises to fund mental health supports with nearly $6.5 billion if re-elected – Aug 31, 2021

A re-elected Liberal government would give provinces and territories $4.5 billion over five years in targeted funding for mental health, but wouldn’t dictate how they deliver that support, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised Tuesday.

The funding would be delivered through a new, permanent mental health transfer, he said.

“The past 18 months have been really tough, for parents, for seniors, for essential workers, for all the people who are grieving the loss of family members, for everyone who’s faced discrimination or hate _ no matter who you are you deserve the right support and that includes on mental health,” Trudeau said.

“We’ve made real progress, but if you’ve been in crisis and faced a wait list, if you’re a student struggling to pay both rent and a therapist, you know there’s a lot of work still to do.”

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The Liberals also promising $500 million over fours years to increase access to mental health services on university and college campuses, which he says will support the hiring of 1,200 mental health counsellors.

Tuesday’s announcement, made in Ottawa, also includes the creation of a national, three-digit suicide prevention and mental health support hotline.

A Conservative motion to create such a hotline was unanimously supported by the House of Commons last December and that party has also included such a promise in its platform.

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The Conservatives have vowed to provide enough funding through health transfers for an additional one million Canadians to receive mental health treatment every year. But Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said that his pledge of increased health spending, which he has pegged at $60 billion over 10 years, will not come with conditions.

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“In our Canada recovery plan we’re making historic investments in our public system, a minimum of six per cent increase per year without tying Ottawa-knows-best conditions,” “O’Toole said Tuesday.

“I know that all provinces know that we’ve seen alarming rates in domestic violence, in youth depression, I know all provinces will focus need on mental health, but I will respect provincial decisions.”

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Trudeau’s promise to provide dedicated funding to hire doctors and nurses was criticized last week as emblematic of an overly “centralist” approach by Quebec Premier Francois Legault, who also took aim at specific funding pledges issued by the New Democrats.

Legault bristled at what he deemed to be overly targeted health funding promises, saying health transfers should increase while allowing Quebec to set its own program priorities.

“We’re not micromanaging,” Trudeau said in French on Tuesday when asked whether his latest announcement could fuel similar criticism.

“We know what the goals are. Canadians need access to doctors and mental health experts, they need support, but we won’t tell provinces exactly how they need to deliver that,” he said.

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The Liberals say they would also review the Disability Tax Credit and Canada Pension Plan disability benefits, establish a fund to support Black Canadians in the public service and include mental health as a specific element of occupational health and safety under the Canada Labour Code.

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It’s the Liberals’ second mental health announcement in as many days.

On Monday, they pledged $1.4 billion in added funding over five years to co-develop an Indigenous mental health strategy.

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