NDP mental health ministry would pull resources from other departments

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath says the government should pull resources from existing ministries to form a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.

Andrea Horwath says mental health resources in other ministries are 'just not getting the job done'

NDP leader Andrea Horwath promotes her party's private member's bill, The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions Act, which was tabled Monday. (Andrea Horwath/Twitter)

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath says the government should pull resources from existing ministries to form a new Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. 

Horwath made the suggestion Friday during an interview on The Morning Edition, one day after the NDP's private member's bill — Bill 149 — was debated at Queen's Park. 

The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions Act was put forward on Monday by NDP health critic France Gélinas. After being debated on Thursday, it was referred to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs. 

"It's obvious that what we've been doing thus far simply is not working," Horwath said. "The focus is not there. The determination is not there. The follow up is not there. In order to create that real place, that single place where we can start getting a handle on mental health and addictions in this province, we believe there needs to be a separate ministry responsible."

Horwath said a separate ministry would be better equipped to respond to Ontario's opioid crisis and address the dearth of counselling and other support services available to youth and adults.

She said the resources to finance the new ministry would come from 11 existing ministries that are currently responsible for delivering mental health and addiction services. 

"Pull mental health specifically out of Health and Long Term Care," she said. "There are resources within each of these ministries — few and very disjointed resources, mind you, in all of these other places — that are not getting the job done. I'm not blaming the people, there's just no focus, there's just no coordination, there's just no real determination to tackle this growing problem."

"There's no doubt we've come a long way when it comes to stigma and those kinds of things, but that's more community based. What we really need to do is start focusing on how government services need to change to really impact the crisis that we have in mental health and in addictions."

Judy Darcy became British Columbia's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions in July, when her party took government. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

B.C. ministry first in Canada

The Ontario NDP is not the first Canadian political party to propose a ministry of mental health and addictions. The New Democrats in British Columbia formed a similar ministry when they formed government in July 2018.

"People across British Columbia have just not been getting the services that they need for mental health or addictions over the past 16 years and we need to do a lot better," said MLA Judy Darcy during a Power and Politics interview soon after being appointed Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.

"We need to catch these issues early. We need to do interventions in schools, with our young people, mental health workers, so that mental health issues don't become severe mental health issues that then turn into substance use and then turn into some of the very serious problems we have in the province."

People working mental health and addictions hope British Columbia's new minister will stop the ever increasing number of deaths related to opioid overdose. (Frederic Gagnon/CBC)

Minister as 'super-coordinator'

Although its still early days, the fledgling ministry and its minister have been getting good reviews from those working in the mental health field.

"If nobody's in charge, nobody's going to create the solutions, and I think she's in charge. That's how I choose to embrace this new move," said Bev Gutray, CEO of the CMHA in British Columbia.

"If this is just about another ministry and it gets bogged down in planning and it even slows things down further, well that would be a tremendous loss. But that's not what we're calling for. We're calling for a ministry and a minister that can actually be the super-coordinator of all of the mental healthcare that is delivered across those multiple ministries." 

You can drop millions of dollars on the issues – billions of dollars on the issue – and not get anything done at all if you do all the wrong things. But you can get a lot done with not much if you do it the right way.- Sarah Blyth

As in Ontario, mental healthcare in British Columbia is delivered by multiple ministries. The Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in B.C. does not directly provide services, but coordinates the services of the other ministries. That's what makes it different from the ministry being proposed by the NDP in Ontario.

"As far as the delivery of mental health services and addiction services right now, they remain with the Ministry of Health," Gutray said, "but as far as how they are focused or where new investments go, I see that as [the minister's] role. It's not just a facilitator. I really see her as the super coordinator... That's the only way we're going to actually make headway."

Sarah Blyth, with the Overdose Prevention Society, says the new minister puts a focus on the province's opioid crisis. (Rafal Gerszak/Boreal Collective)

A focus on the opioid crisis

Having a dedicated minister is also beneficial for the simple fact that it puts a focus on mental health and addictions, said Sarah Blyth, who coordinates the Overdose Prevention Society in Vancouver's downtown Eastside.

While she is encouraged by Darcy's activist past and personal history, she said she does worry about the position's future.

"Our minister is great," she said, "but the next person — it really depends on the person. It depends on whether they've got the gumption to actually do something or they're going to sit in a position and put money towards things that are and aren't going to work." 

"You can drop millions of dollars on the issues – billions of dollars on the issue – and not get anything done at all if you do all the wrong things. But you can get a lot done with not much if you do it the right way."