O'Toole pledges mental health support, attaches no strings for provinces, territories

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BRANTFORD, Ont. — A Conservative government would work with the provinces to invest in mental health, transferring them enough funds for an extra one million Canadians to receive treatment each year, party leader Erin O'Toole announced Wednesday.

The pledge comes amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has taken a toll on well-being. O'Toole cited the results of a Statistics Canada survey from March that found that one in five Canadians screened had symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder following a year of lockdowns, social isolation and economic precarity.

"Someone you know is struggling right now," he said. "The mental health crisis is the epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic."

The promise is part of a broader pledge of $60 billion more in health transfers over the next decade. It forms one of the Tory leader's five election platform "pillars" and colours an emerging self-portrait of a compassionate Conservative focused on jobs, prosperity, wellness and addiction.

However, O'Toole shied away from laying down any conditions for that funding — including any portion intended for mental health — stating that Ottawa needs to allow provinces "more choice."

“We will partner with the provinces, not create confrontation as we’ve seen with Mr. Trudeau," he said, referring to the Liberal leader.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh criticized O'Toole's record on health care, citing Conservative and Liberal opposition to an NDP private member's bill to usher in universal pharmacare that was defeated earlier this year.

“If Erin O’Toole was serious about improving access to mental health services, he wouldn’t have helped Stephen Harper cut health-care transfers or teamed up with Justin Trudeau to vote down a plan to make prescription drugs more affordable and accessible for people," Singh said in a statement.

At a campaign stop Wednesday in Brantford, Ont., aday after Singh and Trudeau rolled through the region, O'Toole laid out his mental-health strategy, which follows recent pledges to protect private-sector workers' pensions and put "compassion at the centre of the justice system."

He repeated his plan to offer a tax credit to employers for 25 per cent of the cost of mental health coverage, create a national suicide prevention hotline and fund charities with $150 million in grants over three years to deliver wellness programming.

O'Toole said a Conservative government would provide $1 billion over five years to boost funding for Indigenous mental health and drug treatment programs, with culturally appropriate supports.

The Liberal budget from April earmarks millions to government bodies to develop national mental health service standards and back support projects for groups "disproportionately impacted by COVID-19," while the NDP is promising mental health care for uninsured Canadians.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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