Mental Health Commission

Hon. Jim Munson: Thank you, Your Honour. My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. As you know, our prestigious independent Liberal caucus has been holding regular open caucus sessions so that Canadians can understand and learn about different issues in the country, and they have been very informative, including the one a couple of weeks ago dealing with mental health in this country. The experts there told us many, many things. Of course, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Mental Health Commission, which was created in 2007 and the idea for which came from the Senate, we have a national conversation trying to erase the stigma of mental illness.

But there are desperate situations in this community. Mr. Leader, as you know, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime. Those faced with mental illness are also faced with a choice to pay out of pocket for treatment, or wait as long as a year for services covered by Medicare.

I applaud the government for renewing the Mental Health Commission’s mandate to 2027, but your government has yet to commit to the commission’s budget. We see the advertising. There is certainly a budget for that and a lot of money being spent on advertising on the economic blueprint for the future.

But where is the money? Can you provide figures on how much money the Mental Health Commission of Canada will receive to address this important issue?


Hon. Claude Carignan (Leader of the Government): Senator, to answer your question, as you know, we have invested nearly $1 billion in mental health research since 2006, in addition to our support for the Canada Brain Research Fund. As you noted, we created the Mental Health Commission of Canada to develop the Mental Health Strategy for Canada and recommend the best ways in which all levels of government, health care professionals, communities and individuals can work together and improve outcomes.

In response to the renewal of the commission’s mandate, Michael Wilson, who chairs the board of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said:

This renewed mandate signifies a new chapter for the MHCC. Together we will continue to build on our accomplishments and strive towards our common goal: improving the mental health of Canadians.

Senator, rest assured, this extended mandate will the give the commission the tools it needs to carry out its responsibilities. I am confident that the chair of the board, former Minister Michael Wilson, will ensure that the commission has the necessary funding to fulfill this mandate.


Senator Munson: I appreciate that response. I think the sooner that Parliament knows how much money is involved and how the programs are going to work, the better. The sooner the better. It is a shame that the money is not shown in the budget implementation bill.

I will take your answer. Of course, from Michael Wilson, I have the same quotes in front of me. They’re very pleased and happy for this, but I think the mental health community would love to know, as well, just how much money there is and how the programs will work.

As part of the commission’s initial mandate, there’s a knowledge exchange centre that has been established to connect with doctors and share practices across the country. But the panel that appeared before us says it does not go far enough, and it says it is essential that national protocols be established for mental health treatment as outlined in the commission’s national strategy.

What is the federal government doing to collaborate with the provinces? I would like to have some specifics here, if I could. What is the federal government doing to collaborate with the provinces and see the national mental health strategy implemented?


Senator Carignan: I likely anticipated that question when I was giving my previous answer. As I said, we have invested nearly $1 billion in mental health research since 2006, in addition to the envelope for the Canada Brain Research Fund. We created the Mental Health Commission of Canada, whose mission is to develop a national mental health strategy and recommend the best ways in which all levels of government, health care professionals, communities and individuals can work together and improve outcomes and services with respect to mental health. That should answer your question.


Senator Munson: Thank you, Mr. Leader. It seems, though, that $100 million is nowhere near enough. Just for the record, I would like to have your government explain the poor state of mental health of individuals under its care: the suicide rate for veterans is 46 per cent above the national average for men and 32 per cent for women; in federal correctional institutions, suicide accounts for 20 per cent of all deaths; and, over a third of young Aboriginal deaths are attributable to suicide. Do you really think that your government is doing enough to support Canadians struggling with mental health?


Senator Carignan: Senator, I don’t know where you got the $100 million figure. I said $1 billion. As for veterans, as I have already pointed out in response to previous questions, veterans want our government to focus on medical research to improve treatment and rehabilitation programs.

Our government has made significant improvements to the mental health program for Canadian veterans. We will be opening a new operational stress injury clinic in Halifax, with satellite clinics in St. John’s, Chicoutimi, Pembroke, Brockville, Kelowna, Victoria, Montreal and Hamilton. We are working with the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre and the Mental Health Commission of Canada to broaden research and promote communication.

We are also making improvements that are generating better career outcomes for Canadian veterans. We have increased investments and expanded rehabilitation and retraining, and we have brought in faster record transfer between National Defence and Veterans Affairs.

We offer better medical treatment, starting with better research. We have allocated a significant amount of money: $200 million over six years. This money is on the books for the next six years and will be available to veterans for as long as they need it. Anything less would be irresponsible. Senator, you can see that the government is taking concrete action on mental health. You specifically mentioned veterans. I think my answer is complete and shows our government’s commitment in this sector, as in all the sectors under its jurisdiction.