MPP Wayne Gates says the province needs to listen to Niagara and adopt mental health funding for Ontario.
Gates forced a late night debate Wednesday in the Ontario Legislature after the province didn’t include funding for Niagara in Tuesday’s provincial mental health strategy announcement, even though $2.3 million in funding for expanded mental health services was unanimously agreed upon by Niagara’s four MPPs in December of 2018.
The $2.3 million was essentially set aside to create three 24/7 mental health drop-in facilities around Niagara – expanding the hours of the ones in St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, and building a new one in Welland. From there, it included funds for transportation so residents from places like Niagara-on-the-Lake could call them and get transportation there.
The decision followed the news of an increasing number of suicides at the Burgoyne Bridge in St. Catharines, and would see $825,000 for St. Catharines and $700,000 to Niagara Falls to expand existing care, and $850,000 for the new service in Welland.
Gates said the funds are “urgently-needed” in Niagara.
“I’m here because I asked this government a question about the mental health crisis we have in Niagara. Frankly, their answer didn’t show me they’re taking the issue seriously,” said Gates during the debate in the legislature on Wednesday.
“We have a hallway medicine crisis in Niagara. Doctors, nurses, front-line health care workers are trying their best, but they cannot devote the time necessary to help someone suffering who needs mental health support right away.”
In Niagara, about one person dies every seven days as a result of mental health issues, Gates said during a phone interview. The number was updated recently to one life every nine days, according to the Niagara Region.
“When you hear that stat, it actually jumped out at me and I was little surprised at it,” Gates said.
Gates said it's a non-partisan issue, and wants to province to commit to giving the money to Niagara.
“They voted to pass that funding, and they insulted Niagarans further when they left them out of the mental health strategy. How many more residents of Niagara must die due to mental health struggles before this government cares about Niagara?,” asked Gates.
Gates said when four MPPs across the region agree on an issue, it should be supported by the province.
“Everybody supported the motion,” Gates said. “When you have all four MPPs from different parties saying, ‘yes, this is what we need’ you should provide the funding. It’s a necessity for Niagara. It’s a necessity for our kids, our grandkids, our young people. So that’s why I did it this week.”
The $2.3 million figure is “obviously a drop in the bucket, which would save lives and help frontline workers,” Gates said.
He said the reality is hospitals simply don’t have the resources or time to devote to mental health patients. On top of that, about 70 per cent of police calls are regarding mental health.
“So I’m trying to get (the government) to highlight the issue. They’re saying they’re spending $10 billion over 10 years on mental health. What I’m saying is that I got the minister of mental health and addictions [Michael] Tibollo, to the Niagara Region. Tibollo listened to around 30 groups representing a large portion of front-line mental health service providers in Niagara. They’re saying, listen, we have a crisis. People are dying in Niagara because of mental health.”
He said he gives some credit to minister for telling him he’s aware of the crisis and is supportive of Gates’ efforts.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Wayne I hear you, I’ve been to Niagara, I know there’s a crisis there. I’m going to continue to lobby my government to provide the funding for what you need in Niagara.’”
Gates, who said he’s had a number of friends and family who have struggled with mental health issues, said the issue affects everyone.
“The reality is mental health is a non-partisan issue,” said Gates. “It could happen to any of us. You could be a doctor, a lawyer, a PC, a liberal, an NDPer — it doesn’t matter. (Mental health) shows no boundaries.”
There is also a strong need for addictions services, he said.
“Mental health and addiction go hand in hand.”