Former federal Liberal cabinet minister Claudette Bradshaw is trying to set up a school in New Brunswick that would train employers, teachers and judges to recognize and work with people who suffer from mental illnesses.

Bradshaw crossed paths with people from all walks of life in her decades working with not-for-profit groups and in her experience as a federal politician.

She's heard from business people who need workers and she's met people who struggle with learning disabilities.

Bradshaw, who was the federal labour minister and the minister responsible for homelessness, said it's time for managers to realize the potential of people who have problems such as fetal alcohol syndrome or dyslexia.

"You are losing such a workforce that if your managers knew and if your company knew how to work with them you will get the best workforce that you have ever had in your entire … life," Bradshaw said.

Bradshaw said she is hoping to open a training school in New Brunswick where managers, teachers, police officers and judges would learn to recognize and help people with learning disabilities and mental illnesses to find their way.

The former federal cabinet minister said it was important that institutions, such as the courts, learn how to deal with people who may have forms of mental illness or other issues that affect their behaviour.

"What do we do about our courts when somebody shows up in court and guess what they're dyslexic, they [have] fetal alcohol syndrome, they have [a] mental illness. Do they deserve to go in prison? Can we help them in another way, if we knew what it was?" she said.

Funding search

Bradshaw said she is working on getting the funding so she can set up a training centre in New Brunswick and study the results for five years.

If it's successful, she hopes to see similar schools across the country. Bradshaw said she has high aspirations for the training centre so it can help people and communities.

This isn't the first initiative that Bradshaw has championed in recent months that aims to help people struggling with mental illness.

She is involved with a study by the Mental Health Commission of Canada that will invite 100 people to get off the streets, offer them a furnished apartment and all the professional help they need for the next three years.

The initiative, which is being operated in Moncton, Montreal, Winnipeg and Toronto, is intended to show there is a way to help people with mental illness.

Bradshaw has said she has been lured out of political retirement to spearhead these new initiatives as part of a promise she made to Ashley Smith.

Smith, a 19-year-old Moncton woman who struggled with mental illness, killed herself in prison two years ago.

She tied a ligature around her neck while in a segregation cell in an Ontario prison. A federal investigator said Canada's corrections and health systems failed her.

After Smith died, Bradshaw said when she stood in front of her coffin and told herself that the teenager would not be forgotten.