What do the political parties say about poverty and mental health?

News coverage for the past several weeks has been saturated with election stories with each party highlighting its goals for high profile issues affecting Canadians.

Not surprisingly, the two issues getting the most attention during this election are concerns over the growing economic uncertainty and plans for safeguarding our environment.

Other issues of vital importance have received little or no attention to date and today I’d like to highlight what the major political parties are saying about two important issues I frequently discuss in this column – mental health and poverty.

Beginning with our current government – the Conservative Party – I am disappointed to say that as of September 30th when I am writing this, the Conservative platform has not been released. It is unfortunate I cannot include details about this party’s plans, but I encourage everyone to check the party’s website in the coming days and read through these policies when they become available to the public.

In the Liberal Party platform, mental health is not given a lot of specific coverage, but some initiatives are mentioned that will affect mental health care in our country.

First, the party promises to increase funding to train new doctors and nurses to deal with shortages. According to the Liberal plan, this would involve: creating more residency positions; dealing with current barriers that slow the process of licensing new healthcare workers; rewarding people who choose to pursue needed medical specialties; and providing funding to help foreign trained health care workers obtain Canadian qualifications more quickly.

The only really specific initiative listed for mental health is a commitment to work with the Mental Health Commission of Canada to develop and launch their public awareness campaign aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

As for reducing poverty, the Liberal platform has a fairly detailed plan called the 30-50 plan. Within their first term, a Liberal government wants to reduce the number of people living below the poverty line by at least 30 per cent and at least 50 per cent when it comes to children living in poverty.

Details include a variety of tax benefits for low income Canadians as well as increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement for low income seniors and changing the CPP disability requirements to ensure better coverage for those with episodic illnesses including some psychiatric conditions.

Affordable housing is also addressed with a commitment to help create 30,000 new housing units and refurbish another 30,000 units.

Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP) also addresses both mental health and poverty in its platform. Dealing first with health care, the NDP say they will put in place a program to increase the number of doctors and nurses trained in Canada by 50 per cent.

A couple of specific mental health initiatives include investing in expanding substance abuse prevention programs and establishing mental health crisis response centres modeled after one currently being built in Manitoba. An NDP government would also work with the provinces to develop long term strategies for managing chronic illnesses and disabilities.

National drug coverage for all citizens is another big program the NDP would like to work toward in Canada.

In order to reduce poverty, the NDP will introduce a poverty elimination act aimed at getting rid of poverty by 2020. Targets for the first term in government include reducing overall poverty by 35 per cent and the number of children living in poverty by 50 per cent.

Similar to the Liberal plan, the NDP will phase in new tax benefits and invest in affordable, universal childcare. Establishing a $10 minimum wage tied to inflation and reforming the Employment Insurance system are two other initiatives mentioned in the NDP plan.

Affordable housing is highlighted in plans to put in place a national strategy, which meets our international obligations according to the United Nations – where one per cent of federal spending is allocated for affordable housing. Included within this will be the creation of new homes as well as funding for supportive housing for those with physical and mental health needs. Upgrading existing affordable housing and increasing funding for homelessness services and transitions are also part of the NDP affordable housing plan.

Obviously, I could not give all details in this column and didn’t have space to delve into the platforms of additional parties. Our election is less than two weeks away – I urge you to spend some time reading over each party’s platform and getting familiar with their plans for the issues that matter most to you.


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