P.E.I. premier wants to dial down the political rhetoric of mental health

·3 min read

P.E.I. Premier Dennis King regrets the times he has used mental health announcements as a part of his politics.

He was questioned on the topic by Liberal MLA Gordon McNeilly in the provincial legislature on March 10. One example referenced was King's 2019 election pledge to have a mental health campus constructed in Charlottetown to replace Hillsborough Hospital – a project which still hasn't started.

"I probably, on the stage, got a little ahead of myself in terms of what I was suggesting," King said during question period.

King noted he has learned much more about mental health and addiction issues than he knew when his leadership started, and his government deserves to be critiqued on how it has been handling the topic provincially.

He went on to reflect that he finds the topic is becoming over-politicized on P.E.I. – something he feels guilty of contributing to and would like to see handled more co-operatively.

"I think one of the best things that we can do to improve the mental health and addictions services and the individuals involved," he said, "would be to dial down the political rhetoric on this, to not try to score political points."

"Let's take this one off the board in terms of politics. Let's work together and try and fix it."

McNeilly agreed with King's remarks but wanted to see progress on some of the undelivered promises because he finds it clear – especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic – that mental health is a concern for many Islanders, he said.

"(It's) even clearer that government's response has been inadequate."

McNeilly also referenced the delays in rolling out mobile mental health crisis teams, which were announced as far back as 2018 under the previous government and were reported to commence in early 2021.

As well, King had mentioned in his state of the province address last month that P.E.I. will introduce a 24/7 phone line for Islanders in need of mental health and addictions services, and a centre for mental well-being is intended to be operational later this year.

McNeilly noted it was unclear whether the phoneline announcement was simply recycled news from a previous announcement, which he finds is too often the case, and whether the centre would include a new, physical space or if it was "just a working group”.

"We need it clear from the beginning, so we can figure out a plan," McNeilly said. "I don't want vague anymore."

King clarified the idea behind the centre is to create a single outlet from which partner individuals and groups could share resources and provide for Islanders in need. If physical space is required to deliver the service, then that would be arranged, he said.

"It's not so much the bricks and mortar of this but the overall delivery."

He also hopes the centre would act as a more tangible means for Islanders with concerns on the topic to express them to government.

"I don't think we need to have individuals have rallies to get the attention of government," he said. "I think we need to do a better job of government to make sure they know they can come to address these issues."

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Daniel Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian