Mental health funding among top concerns at provincial pre-budget meeting in Kitchener

Ontario’s Minister of Finance made a visit to Waterloo region Tuesday as part of his series of public consultations to develop this year’s provincial budget. Among the top concerns of those in attendance was funding for mental health.

'It's been a long time since the province has invested in children with special needs'

Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa spent hours listening to the concerns of Waterloo region residents as he hosted a pre-budget meeting at the Kitchener Library. (Hailey Salvian/CBC)

It's time for the Ontario government to put more money into helping children with special needs and those who need mental health support.

Those were some of the top concerns raised Tuesday when Ontario's Finance Minister Charles Sousa held a pre-budget consultation at the Kitchener Public Library.

Linda Kenny, the CEO of Kids Ability Centre for Child Development in Waterloo, was at the meeting and asked Minister Sousa for more funding for children with special needs and mental health issues.

"In our community, our budget is 10 per cent funded by donations, so the community has stepped up and we are able to serve 1,000 children directly from community donations," Kenny said in an interview with CBC News after her three minute pitch to the Finance Minster.

"But it's been a long time since the province has invested in children with special needs and we think it's time it becomes a priority."

Jen MacTavish, the General Manager of Ontario Sheep Farmers, echoed Kenny's concerns, but instead of children's aid, she requested help for farmers.

"Specifically we are requesting is more funding to be targeted towards mental health research in our agricultural community," said MacTavish, who said rural communities are largely under-serviced.

"We believe firmly it's time to start taking care of the people that are feeding us."

Over sixty residents registered to express their concerns to Minster Sousa as he works to prepare the 2018 Ontario budget.

A chance to listen

Sousa heard from more than sixty residents who voiced their thoughts on what they want to see in the 2018 budget.

He was joined by local MPPs, Daiene Vernile, of Kitchener Centre and Kathryn McGarry of Cambridge.

Sousa said the pre-budget meetings are held so he can listen to the priorities and concerns that people in various regions have.

"This is about me listening to the priorities, the concerns that people have here in Kitchener-Waterloo, in the region," Sousa said in an interview Tuesday before the meeting began.

"We've been going throughout the province for pre-budget consultations in order to help prepare the document for the next budget," he said.

"I do it every year so that we capture as much as we can from those who want this budget to reflect their needs their concerns and their priorities."

Waterloo region was his final stop after already visiting cities like Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, London and Windsor.

The meeting was an open session and other topics raised ranged from infrastructure, to libraries to health care.

Both Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky expressed the region's need for extended GO Train service between Toronto and Kitchener, and even touched on the desire for an extension out to Cambridge.

The president and CEO of Communitech, Iain Klugman, was also vocal on the issue of all-day, two-way GO service between the two technology hubs, saying it's necessary to bring more innovative talent into the region.

No date for budget release

Sousa listened intently to Waterloo region residents before leaving for a similar event in Brampton.

Sousa did not have an exact date for the budget will be released when asked by CBC News Tuesday.

But in a press conference in late January he said the provincial election — set for June 7 — creates a condensed timeline for the spending plan to be completed.

With files from The Canadian Press


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