Question re: Mental Health Services - April 2, 2015

Mr. Silver: Let’s go back a bit. In 2011, the Premier made a commitment to spend some new federal money on designing a mental health plan. In 2012, a year later, a former Yukon Party health minister told a radio station that the government was planning a mental health strategy. Two years later, 2014, a former minister told this House, and I quote: “We’re working on a mental health strategy and when it is available, I will be only too happy to present it in the Legislature.”

The clock hits 2015 and Yukon has a new Minister of Health, but still no mental health strategy. We are one of only two jurisdictions in Canada without a strategy in place and it shows Yukoners where mental health is on this government’s priority list. Why is this strategy not in place after four years of promises from this government?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: The member opposite may not be aware that the department really provides a range of services and supports to clients with mental illnesses, mental health challenges, concurrent disorders and addictions — and their families.

We see this government standing up to the plate with announcements like the construction of the new Sarah Steele facility that will be — construction will be completed next fall. I’ve met with the Mental Health Association here in the territory and they’re very pleased with the services and infrastructure that this government has invested in over the last number of years and we’ll continue down that road.

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, the minister gave us a random list of some things that the government is doing to support people with some mental illnesses. Many of them are very good initiatives and we do applaud the government for their initiatives so far, but I would argue that it’s not enough. What was promised was an overall strategy, a plan to ensure that programs and initiatives are actually working to provide Yukoners with what they need. The government seemed to think that this was a good idea as well. Every year since the last election, the government promised a mental health strategy and every year, it fails to deliver it.

Mr. Speaker, why is a mental health strategy not a priority for this government?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: Mr. Speaker, I think this government has put its money where its mouth is and shown how committed we are to offering services for individuals in the territory experiencing mental health issues, whether it’s addictions or other issues. We’ll continue the good work.

We just announced the five-plex on Fourth Avenue specifically for individuals who have mental health issues and need transitional-type housing. This government will continue to make investments in mental health and continue to do the good work. Mr. Speaker, I need to make a good point here and extend sincere thanks to the staff — the Yukon government staff and NGOs around the territory that are providing these services — second to none — and I would argue they are some of the best services in Canada.

Mr. Silver: I would like to apologize to those NGOs and staff that we don’t have a mental health strategy.

Mr. Speaker, if it were a priority, then it would be in place. We remain one of only two jurisdictions in Canada without a mental health strategy. The endless promises from this government have become pretty tiresome. In 2013, the government released a needs assessment for the newly built hospitals in Watson Lake and in Dawson. The assessment was done after, not before, the buildings were constructed. But the report did say, and I quote: “That the implementation of a territorial mental health prevention and treatment strategy be a priority that includes local support workers who maintain contact with those in need…”

I know from the local mental health community in Dawson that we need a coordinator of services — a full 18 months after receiving the report and the recommendation has not been acted upon.

Why does this government hire experts in the field just to ignore their recommendations?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: Mr. Speaker, this government will continue to stand behind its staff and the NGOs providing services in the territory. These are actions and this government is interested in those types of actions where we can ensure that services are provided to those in need of the five-plex on Fourth Avenue and the need for a new Sarah Steele Building for drug and alcohol treatment. We’ll continue to support those organizations like Many Rivers and the excellent work that they do. This government believes that taking those types of actions when it comes to mental health is very important. For the member opposite to indicate that we don’t take it seriously is clearly very wrong.