Nfld. & Labrador

Kirby using last weeks in Senate to promote mental health program

Retiring Senator Michael Kirby is using his final days in office to campaign for a national strategy to combat the stigma associated with mental illness.

A retiring senator is using his final days in office to campaign for a national strategy to combat the stigmatizingof mental illness.

Michael Kirby, who spearheaded a Senate report on mental health that was released this spring, said Canada has no excuse not to follow through with a strategy to dispel myths about mental disease.

"We are the only major industrialized country without a national mental health strategy," Kirby said Wednesday, before addressing delegatesto a meeting of the Canadian Mental Health Association in St. John's.

"A number of other countries— Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and so on— have been running centralized or national anti-stigma campaigns for a long time… and they've had a very significant degree of success," Kirby told CBC News.

Kirby, 65, is retiring at the end of October, a full decade before he is legally obligated to do so.

He has been spending his final weeks on the job travelling across Canada to promote the mental health strategy. He said he is hoping the Harper government will take action on it within the next few months.

"We have the support of every provincial and territorial government, so it's not as if we don't have governmental support," said Kirby, a Liberal appointee to the Senate.

"The final government that needs to come into line, as it were, is the federal government, and that's why we're leaning on the federal government…. They had a lot of other things on their plate, but I'd certainly be disappointed if the issue is not resolved by the end of the year."

Among other things, the three-year Senate investigation found that mentally ill patients suffer from systemic problems, including a lack of housing.

The Senate report recommended paying for a national mental health strategy by increasing the federal excise tax on alcohol by five cents per sale. Kirby called the recommendation "the politically safest way" to pay for the strategy.

Geoff Chaulk, executive director of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of the CMHA, said he supports a national strategy so long as consideration is given to services for rural Canadians.

"As a province, we need to be recognized as being challenged by small population that's spread out into a remote part of the country," Chaulk said.