NDP questions Trudeau government on mental health funding shortfall

The NDP is calling on the Trudeau government to make good on a 2021 election campaign promise to put $4.5 billion over five years toward mental health initiatives – including money for Indigenous communities.

“Indigenous people rightfully expect more from this government which continues to be all talk with no action,” Nunavut NDP MP Lori Idlout said in the House of Commons Thursday. “Will this government finally commit to the culturally appropriate Indigenous mental health funding that they promised?”

In this year’s budget, the Liberals pledged $244 million over five years for mental health and another $228 million over the same period for Indigenous mental wellness.

On Thursday morning, the government announced an additional $11 million for Inuit suicide prevention but this still leaves the Liberals far short of what was initially promised in the last federal election campaign.

The new money will go toward Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s (ITK) National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy.

“We will do all that we can and partner with who we can on suicide prevention moving forward,” ITK President Natan Obed said at a press conference.  “And I’m very pleased that minister Hajdu (Patty, ISC minister) and the government has taken this issue seriously and we continue to work together on it.”

ITK launched its suicide prevention strategy in 2016 and according to the document, “The strategy’s evidence-based approach to suicide prevention considers the entire lifespan of the individual, as well as what can be done to provide support for families and individuals in the wake of adverse experiences that we know increase suicide risk.”

Also, according to the organization’s numbers, suicide rates in Nunavut and Nunavik are roughly 10 times the national average.

But Obed was unable to say whether suicide rates had declined or risen since the strategy was implemented six years ago.

“Suicide rates in general are very difficult to calculate especially from an Inuit-specific lens,” said Obed. “We are working now with the RCMP and with the coroner’s (office) and with jurisdictions to try to come up with an MOU or some sort of working arrangement so we would have a better understanding of deaths by suicide that also has an ethnic identifier with it.”

When asked about the funding shortfall, Hajdu defended the government’s record on mental health.

“Well, I don’t know if there is a discrepancy,” she said. “This government has been committed to mental wellness and mental health including by the way transformation of the Canada Drug Strategy and the way that we address substance use in this country.

“All of those things are important. The National Housing Strategy is an important mental wellness contribution to ensuring that people have access to decent housing.”

APTN News reached out to the First Nations, Inuit Health Branch for clarification on the government’s mental health funding numbers but did not hear back when this story was published.

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