Question re: Mental health services - December 2, 2015

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. When we met in the spring, the first question that I raised was about the Yukon’s lack of a mental health strategy. Near the end of the Sitting, a motion I introduced received unanimous support for the creation of just such a plan. Unfortunately for those suffering from mental health issues, we remain one of only two jurisdictions in Canada without such a strategy.

I was optimistic, after largely being ignored from this government for over a decade, that mental health had finally made it on to a priority list for this government. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, another six months have passed with nothing in place.

Why has the government not acted on the unanimous motion passed in this House to create a Yukon mental health strategy?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: I’m a little disappointed in the question from the member opposite for the mere fact that, when we just debated the budget of the Department of Health and Social Services, we talked about mental health. I indicated at that time that we were engaged in meaningful discussions and work on a mental wellness or a mental health strategy.

I find it a bit perplexing that the member opposite wasn’t paying attention during budget debate. Perhaps he can clarify that in his next response.

Mr. Silver: The clarification is we still do not have a mental health strategy in the Yukon and we are only one of two jurisdictions in Canada. The minister saying “We’re working on it” is just not enough for Yukoners.

Before we began this Sitting, Mr. Speaker, the Premier told Yukoners that his government had virtually completed all of its platform commitments from the last election. He also referenced new letters of instructions that he sent to the ministers for the next election. The letter to the Health minister made no mention of the creation of a mental health strategy to serve all Yukoners.

Why was a mental health strategy for all Yukoners not even included in the new marching orders for the Minister of Health and Social Services?

Hon. Mr. Nixon: What the member opposite fails to reflect on is the fact that I’ve mentioned time and time again in this House that mental health is a key priority for this government. We continue to work with provincial and territorial governments and with the federal government. We continue to work with local stakeholders here in the territory, including the Mental Health Association.

The Department of Health and Social Services has the Mental Health Services division and they do excellent work at reaching out to Yukoners and working with non-profit organizations at providing counselling opportunities for those Yukoners who want and need it.

I will also add that this Yukon Party government has also invested more in mental health than any other government, including the NDP and Liberals when they were in government, so we will continue down this path. I’m proud of the work that is being done in the territory, both by the department and our stakeholders.

Mr. Silver: All we’re hearing is: “We’re working on it”. I’ll help the minister to answer the question to him. In the minister’s new mandate letter, there was a reference to a 2014 document covering some mental health issues for youth; however it’s hardly a whole suite of solutions because this was only dedicated to people 18 to 25.

At the end of the spring session, the minister hinted the strategy would be ready before the next election, but he is in no hurry to get it done. Unfortunately the government seems to be treating this as a box to be ticked off for the next election as opposed to something that actually affects people on a daily basis.

What was promised was an overall strategy — a plan to ensure programs and initiatives are actually working to provide Yukoners with what they need. The government seems to think that this was a good idea as well. Every year since the last election the government promises a mental health strategy and every year it fails to deliver.

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

Hon. Mr. Nixon: To correct the member opposite, as I have indicated before in this House, a mental health or mental wellness strategy is a priority of this government.

As I indicated in my two previous responses, we continue to work with our provincial and territorial counterparts. We continue to work with stakeholders. We have reached out to McMaster University in Ontario to ensure that we are moving forward in a responsible and practical way, based on good decision-making and best practices. We continue to invest heavily in mental health in the territory. We continue to work with stakeholders, such as Northwestel during their mental health campaigns. Certainly we understand that this is very important to Yukoners.

We also want to ensure that we are evidence-based in decision-making and in assessing how system and delivery changes through implementation are impacting Yukoners. That is something that is important — more important than, as the member opposite talked about, checking off boxes. We can understand that is what is important to the Liberal government — or the Liberals, pardon me — but what is important to us is those services for Yukoners.