Thunder Bay

New Ontario mental health funding may not be what it seems, Thunder Bay coalition says

Health advocates in Thunder Bay say an announcement by the Ontario government that it is increasing support for mental health and addiction services may not be totally accurate.

Ford government already cut mental health funding from $2.1B over 4 years, to $1.9B over 10 years

Jules Tupker is the chair of the Thunder Bay Health Coalition. (Amy Hadley/CBC)

Health advocates in Thunder Bay say an announcement Monday by the Ontario government that it is increasing support for mental health and addiction services may not be totally accurate.

To kick off Mental Health Week in Canada, the provincial government announced an "additional" $174 million in funding to address service gaps across Ontario.

The announcement comes after the government cut mental health funding from $2.1 billion over four years — set by the previous Liberal government — to 1.9 billion over 10 years, said Jules Tupker, the co-chair of the Thunder Bay Health Coalition. 

'Disheartening and disgusting'

He added that even with the extra $174 million announced Monday, the funding still shortchanges those in need by $330 million per year.

"It's very disheartening and disgusting that the provincial government tries to come across as being heroes of increasing funding for mental health, and in fact they are actually cutting services," said Tupker.

He said the "smoke-screen" announcement isn't anything new from the Ford government, which has cut funding for a number of health services over the past few months, including that for hospitals and other social services.

"It seems the story for this government is to confuse people, and to make false statements," Tupker added.

Mental health services already underfunded

Tupker said there's "clearly a huge problem with mental health" in Thunder Bay, especially for people who must travel to the city from northern remote First Nations to access proper services.

Nancy Chamberlain, the executive director of Thunder Bay Counseling, said funding for mental health and addiction services in northwestern Ontario is already severely depleted.

"I hate to say that, but we're continually trying to be efficient and effective in looking at access," she said. "We work very hard in this community to ensure that you can get into services."

Chamberlain is "measured" in her response to the government's funding announcement. "It really supports this government's agenda around connecting Ontarians, and making sure that it's a connected mental health and addiction strategy," she said.

'Addictions, mental health is a really big problem'

"I think we know addiction and mental health is a really big problem in this community, but hopefully we'll start to see some more investments in northwestern Ontario."

In a statement to CBC, the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care did not address any plans to match the previous funding, but said it "made a promise during the election to make mental health a priority."