Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for allowing us to participate in this debate, and to thank all members in the House for being here this evening.
My heart goes out to all those who have lost friends and loved ones to suicide, and those individuals who have been affected by the recent crisis that has unfolded in our northern communities, such as Attawapiskat.
In response to the state of emergency, I think everyone in this House understands the tragedy of suicide and the need for all of us to do more. However, to understand what we need to do in the future, we need to understand what was done in the past. Therefore, I would like to bring to the attention of those here tonight some of the things that have been done in the past, so that we can understand what we need to do in the future.
I will talk a bit about the commitments that were made under previous governments with the co-operation of Health Canada, aboriginal communities, and additional stakeholders. That will be to better understand suicide and mental health to aid those who feel the internal pain that leads them to believe there is no other option.
With initiatives such as the ones made by previous governments, Canada is becoming better equipped to help those who need it, and to renew hope. Obviously there are still significant gaps, particularly with our aboriginal communities. However, these initiatives are in part helpful aids to the current government to help it continue the work that needs to be done on mental health research and suicide prevention in Canada. As we all realize, even though Canada invests significantly more now than ever before in mental health initiatives, more can and needs to be done.
The previous government had taken a strong stance, for example, on innovative research related to suicide and its prevention. We recognized the very real impact that mental health conditions have on families. We all have a role to play to improving the mental health of all Canadians.
Since 2006, our past Conservative government had invested over $32 million to support over 130 aboriginal community-based suicide prevention projects. These are the projects that we work in a partnership that is necessary to get to the root causes.
There has been $1 billion invested in mental health and neuroscience research since 2006. We helped to establish the Canada brain research fund, which provides matching funds to complement funds that have been raised by private contributions for research in brain disease and mental disorders.
Additionally, our government had increased health transfers to the provinces to unprecedented levels, by 70%, accounting for close to 25% of the federal government's total spending. Ontario alone received increases, from approximately $10 billion a year in transfers, to close to $21 billion.
Furthermore, I was very proud that our government, during our mandate, had the opportunity to help establish the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2006. The commission has been able to help communities work together and find solutions for mental health and suicide prevention.
The commission has proudly trained 100,000 individuals to support good mental health, in addition to the following initiatives:
1. Promote mental health across the lifespan of Canadians in homes, schools, and workplaces, and prevent mental illness and suicide wherever possible.
2. Foster recovery and well-being for people of all ages living with mental health problems and illnesses, and uphold their rights.
3. Provide access to the right combination of services, treatments and supports, when and where people need them [across our country].
4. Reduce disparities in risk factors and access to mental health services, and strengthen the response to the needs of diverse communities and Northerners.
5. Work with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to address their mental health needs, acknowledging their distinct circumstances, rights and cultures.
6. [And, of course] mobilize leadership, improve knowledge, and foster collaboration at all levels [of government].
The Mental Health Commission of Canada continues to advocate for opportunities to establish initiatives of suicide prevention. In response to the Prime Minister's wishes for his ministry to focus on suicide prevention as a top national health priority, a proposal was made and presented to the finance committee that had detailed a community-based suicide prevention program. Unfortunately, the national suicide prevention project did not receive funding in the 2016 budget.
The national suicide prevention project would have focused on specialized support, including a range of prevention and crisis services, such as crisis lines, support groups, and coordinating, planning and access. It would have provided training and networks to better equip community gatekeepers, such as physicians, first responders, nurses, human resource staff and managers, and teachers, by providing access to training and ongoing learning opportunities. Public awareness campaigns in each community via posters, brochures, and social media would have been included.
It recommended means restriction, by helping communities to identify hot spots, the methods or places where a high number of suicides occur, and restricting access to them by building barriers on bridges or railway crossings; and protocols for medication access.
Also recommended was research, to increase the suicide prevention evidence base. This would have included setting research priorities and evaluating the model itself.
I hope that the current Liberal government takes the wise advice of the Mental Health Commission as it continues to address this state of emergency and starts moving forward to come up with a more permanent solution. At the end of the day, it is about a permanent solution.
Further initiatives that were moved forward by the previous government include an act respecting a federal framework for suicide prevention, which was introduced by my colleague, the member for Kitchener—Conestoga. He will have the opportunity to speak during this debate on his private member's bill, which achieved royal assent in 2012. The member has been committed to addressing the difficult issue of suicide, and I welcome his experience and insight during the debate this evening.
I am proud to have been part of a government that saw no reductions in aboriginal mental health services. Indeed, they were at an all-time high. Over $200 million had been invested annually for aboriginal mental health services. As a matter of fact, since 2006, we invested over $2 billion to improve mental health and wellness of aboriginals across Canada. These included building communities; developing community-based mental health programming; the brighter futures program, which supports mental health and illness prevention programs; and 10 mental health and wellness teams for aboriginal communities, increasing access to services.
However, we all know that money cannot do it alone. Additionally, we did work to increase the flexibility for Canadian student loan forgiveness for doctors and nurses who work in remote areas. The nurse recruitment and retention strategy recruits nurses from schools and supports graduate integration. There were investments of over $25 million into the pathways to health equity for aboriginal peoples project. This innovative research has ensured that primary health issues are addressed.
In the wake of this recent crisis, I would like to mention that a timely response is essential when handling a state of emergency, especially to preserve the lives and well-being of a community. We applaud those who have moved forward in this approach.
The minister has confirmed the commitment of $300 million in funding that is aimed toward the health and well-being of aboriginal communities, enabling the continuation of health and wellness of aboriginal communities like Attawapiskat. However, there is more that has to be done. In addition to an emergency response, there is a need for the government to develop a long-term prevention strategy that will help communities receive the necessary tools that a national framework for suicide prevention can deliver.
Again, I applaud the efforts of all my colleagues in the House, especially my colleague from Kitchener—Conestoga, whose private member's bill received royal assent. I ask the government to table a framework to avoid further states of emergency related to suicide.