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OTTAWA – While provincial governments are calling for more funding to strengthen their health systems in the wake of COVID-19, some are opposing a Liberal election promise to provide dedicated funding for mental health.

Federal contributions to provincial health systems, including mental health services, are funded through the Canada Health Transfer.

During the federal election campaign, the Liberals proposed a transfer specifically targeted to mental health care, starting with $ 4.5 million over five years.

The transfer would be linked to national standards to ensure a certain level of accessible care across the country.

Two provinces at opposite ends of the political spectrum agree that a dedicated transfer is the wrong approach.

“What they are proposing is both ineffective and undermines the fundamentals while having a debate about, in some ways, credit. I don’t think that’s what we need,” the health minister said. from British Columbia, Adrian Dix, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

British Columbia currently funds its mental health services through the Canada Health Transfer, and Dix said the province will need to continue to do so even if a separate transfer is established.

This is because it is impossible to analyze the funding of mental health from the rest of the health system, he says.

“Mental health is linked to physical health, and the best way to address these issues is to approach the Canada Health Transfer,” he said.

All provinces and territories have come together to demand that the federal government immediately increase its share of overall health care costs from 22 to 35 percent – an increase of about $ 28 billion over this year.

They also called for minimum funding increases of five percent per year, arguing that the current plan of three percent spending hikes means transfers are not keeping pace with annual cost increases.

All provinces agree that the increase in funding should be done without conditions set by the federal government, so that each jurisdiction can target its own needs.

“We have distinct challenges and solutions, and we believe that the Government of Canada will be more effective if it focuses on being a financial partner and promoting common goals, rather than prescribing priorities or specific solutions with conditional funding or earmarked transfers, ”said Alberta Health. Minister Jason Copping spokesperson Steve Buick.

While Alberta and British Columbia have appointed ministerial positions to signal their focus on mental health, provinces are taking very different approaches to addressing it, for example.

The new transfer is not intended to take credit for mental health services, Federal Mental Health Minister Carolyn Bennett said in an interview. Rather, she said it was about developing a national mental health strategy and putting the funds in place to make it happen.

“It’s not just about hospitals and doctors anymore, but knowing that we need to strengthen mental health human resources, we need to develop the digital strategy we need to increase mental health literacy,” Bennett said. .

One of the benefits of the dedicated transfer will be that the federal government will be able to assess whether the funds are producing results, she said.

The idea already has the support of the NDP, provided there are good standards to accompany the funds.

“I think it’s really important to shift money for mental health care, to spend on mental health care, and to ensure accountability for where that money is being spent,” the spokesperson said. New Democrat voice on mental health, Gord Johns.

“We are going to pressure the government to fund this transfer to the provinces which is devoted to mental health and to ensure that there are standards set under the Canada Health Act and that ‘there is greater accountability to ensure that money is spent on mental health. “

With all the stress health systems endured during the pandemic, such as surgical backlogs, staff shortages and acute care capacity, mental health could fall on the priority list without dedicated federal funding, said Michel Rodrigue. , President of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Canada already spends less on mental health as a proportion of total health spending compared to some other OECD countries, Rodrigue said.

Where England spends 12% of its health budget on mental health, Canada spends only 7%, he said.

“We see transfers as a powerful tool to fill this long-standing gap in our country’s mosaic of mental health services,” he said.

The federal and provincial governments have not started negotiations on the transfer of mental health care, but the premiers have demanded a meeting of the premiers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the financing of health care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 25, 2021.

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