House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was illness.

Topics

The Environment
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Thornhill
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Kent Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, again I lament the fact that the opposition will not recognize the positive remarks by the Auditor General's Commissioner of the Environment, but I must say that I was delighted that he acknowledged our international and national commitments to both Copenhagen and Cancun and our commitment to achieving a 17% reduction from 2005 base levels of greenhouse gases by 2020.

Our government was elected to protect both the environment and the economy, and that is what it is doing.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of His Excellency Nassirou Bako-Arifari, Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Integration, Francophonie and the Beninese Abroad, of the Republic of Benin.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I would also like to draw to the attention of hon. members the presence in the gallery of the Honourable Mike Olscamp, Minister of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries for New Brunswick.

Presence in Gallery
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West.

I wish to thank the member for Toronto Centre for raising this important issue.

It is a particular pleasure to rise in the House to speak to this issue so soon after both the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Veterans Affairs replied to questions concerning the relationship of our Canadian veterans and members of the Canadian Forces to this important issue.

Obviously, the member for Toronto Centre is right in saying that suicide is a terrible personal tragedy. When one person takes his or her life, it represents an untold loss of this country's potential. It is a blow to all of us. Suicide carries an especially heavy price for the loved ones left behind.

I can say that the issue of suicide prevention remains a priority for our government and, in particular, for Veterans Affairs. I would like to focus on certain departmental initiatives and share them with you.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is charged with caring for and supporting Canadian veterans and their families, as all members know. What members may not know is that it has made suicide prevention a central mission. The department has a suicide prevention strategy, which is an important element of a broader plan to address the mental health needs of Canada's veterans.

Veterans Affairs Canada in collaboration with the Department of National Defence now has a network of 17 mental health clinics throughout the country which provide specialized services to Canadian Forces members, veterans and RCMP members who suffer from operational stress injuries related to their service. We on this side of the House are proud to say that number has doubled under this government. Let me take a moment to talk about how the operational stress injury clinics work.

During treatment, veterans have periodic appointments at an operational stress injury clinic. In addition to a clinical assessment, clients are offered a variety of treatment options including individual therapies, group sessions, psychoeducation sessions and other resources.

While continuing to live in their community in other words, veterans attend appointments at the operational stress injury, OSI, clinic. They are offered a clinical assessment and a variety of treatment options. Their family members are invited to join them for these periods of treatment.

The teams are made up of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, mental health nurses, and other specialized clinicians who understand the experience and needs of veterans. Referral to other centres may be part of the treatment process, depending on the needs of the client, including any needs related to addiction or substance abuse.

As of today, there are 10 of these clinics operated by Veterans Affairs Canada. Nine are out-patient clinics in Fredericton, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Members from many of those cities have taken part in this debate. The tenth clinic is the in-patient residential treatment clinic for operational stress injuries at Ste. Anne's Hospital, the famous Veterans Affairs institution in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue on the island of Montreal. It was built by the Borden government in 1917 and remains a critical element of this network today.

Telehealth services help ensure that veterans are provided with easier access to emotional support when they need it. Coast-to-coast support is available to help these brave men and women overcome the challenges of complex mental health injuries that could lead to suicide if they are not dealt with properly.

We are pleased to report that 4,200 veterans have received help through those 10 clinics. The Canadian Forces offer similar support through its seven operational trauma and stress support centres. As I mentioned earlier, that makes a total of 17 institutions.

In 2006 the veterans charter introduced a full package of programs and benefits to support modern-day veterans. These include rehabilitation supports, practical help in finding a job, and health benefits. They are all delivered on a case management basis.

Today there are more services and programs available than ever before to support Canadian veterans. There are more front-line health specialists than ever before. There are integrated personnel support centres located on 24 bases and wings to give staff from both departments, working hand-in-hand, a chance to offer early intervention and support.

Working side by side the front-line employees across government develop personalized care plans for each individual veteran. They have also created a very successful peer support network, the operational stress injury social support program. Specially trained peer support counsellors with first-hand experience of operational stress injuries and the loss of loved ones provide vital personal care and support.

I am proud to say that over 5,000 veterans are now part of these networks. Counselling and referral services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through a crisis hotline. More than 2,000 mental health providers are registered in communities across the country to provide professional counselling services to veterans in their own cities and towns.

The services available in principle are substantial, but as the Prime Minister said in question period, there is always room for improvement. That is just what the Department of National Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs are aiming to achieve.

Pastoral outreach services with a network of over 200 chaplains offer spiritual guidance for those in need.

From this summary, I think it is clear that this government takes the mental health of Canada's veterans seriously.

But even the death of one veteran, Canadian Forces member or family member by suicide is one too many. That is why employees have been given suicide awareness and intervention training on a larger and larger scale in recent years, to help them become part of the early warning network that sees these problems coming earlier. I am happy to report that Veterans Affairs is better equipped than ever before to support at-risk veterans and their families.

Moreover, to address a specific aspect of the motion put forward by the member for Toronto Centre, Veterans Affairs and National Defence have jointly commissioned the Canadian Forces mortality report. The results of this study will allow all of us to better understand what conditions pose a suicide risk so that we can create better solutions and understand better what care is required to meet the needs of those at risk.

This is groundbreaking research; never before has it been done in Canada. It will help us develop an evidence-based approach to the prevention of suicide within the Canadian Forces, among veterans and in society at large.

All of these measures are part of the department's overall mental health strategy. It is the most comprehensive mental health care and support effort in the department's history, and the approach is working. In total, more than 14,000 veterans living with mental health conditions receive assistance and support in some form or another.

We can only hope there will be support on all sides of the House, for our soldiers, for our men and women in uniform and for veterans, for those efforts to be expanded, deepened and extended in years to come.

I also have some personal experience with the issue of suicide. When I was a student in Montreal, decades ago now, I volunteered at an NGO called Suicide Action Montréal. We took calls from men and women, often young but sometimes elderly, who were thinking about committing suicide. The calls came mostly at night, but during the day as well, from across Montreal and the greater Montreal area. Some of the callers, the vast majority of those served by this NGO, had already attempted suicide.

I can tell the House that the primary obligation Canadians have regarding suicide is to help find solutions. Each of us must contribute. The most important thing anyone can do for someone who is considering suicide is to listen, to understand where this upsetting emotion is coming from, where this irrational desire to take their own life is coming from. A solution can often be found by connecting on an individual level with the person.

I think that we all need to work on this issue in the long term and keep in mind the often invisible needs of our friends, our colleagues and other members of our communities.

Very few of us in the chamber have experienced war and armed conflict first-hand. It does exact a price not just in terms of lost limbs and lost lives, but in terms of what many veterans of this country's armed services and those of other countries carry with them invisibly for decades to come. Rest assured that this government is taking action to ensure the brave men and women who serve this country get the help and support they need.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, my question for the hon. member relates to the effectiveness of the programs in place. I appreciate his listing the services that are available, but in an environment where there have been 696 suicides by members of the armed forces who have served between 1972 and 2007, clearly there is a problem. Veterans tell me that yes, there are services, but there are not enough.

I appreciate his candid comment that we can do more. My question is a repetition of the question I asked the minister in question period. Are there new strategies and programs, or alternatively, is this a case where the government will commit further resources to the excellent programs the member has outlined and ensure that these programs do not come under the austerity knife?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the question of deficit reduction and measures this government will be taking to meet its goals in that field is a separate one. Let me reassure the member opposite that many of the resources mentioned, both on the veterans affairs side and the national defence side, are new resources, new institutions. New resources are being committed and these institutions in many cases are still being built as we speak.

Moreover, it is beyond any question that the services to meet the needs of men and women in uniform and returning veterans are not yet being used by all who really ought to be using them. It is a question of knowledge, familiarity, sensibilisation, as we say in French. That job will continue. This debate today will help us to raise the profile of this issue and to bring awareness of these services to an even larger group.

I can assure the member that yes, the resources have been increased and are being increased. The bigger challenge is to make sure all of our men and women in uniform and veterans do not succumb to this stigma, but instead know that the right thing to do is to contact the professionals to get the necessary support early, as they start to experience the trauma and anxiety that could lead to suicide.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, as the member was elected in the province of Ontario, presumably he would be aware of an equally large problem regarding suicide, that being within first nations communities.

If he has not apprised himself of the recent coroner's report prepared by Justice Goudge, I would recommend that he discuss that with his colleagues.

In June of this year, Justice Goudge stated in a coroner's report that Pikangikum is an impoverished, isolated first nations community where basic necessities of life are absent. It has experienced 16 suicides in a two-year period. He also made reference to the fact that was the most severe case of suicide in that area of the country.

Would the hon. member speak to the broader issues faced by the communities in his own province? Should the government act on the recommendations of the coroner dealing with poor health services, lack of safe drinking water, no connection to an electricity grid, high unemployment, significant reliance on social services, overcrowded housing and abysmal health services?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very much aware of Justice Goudge's report. I had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Justice Goudge at an earlier stage when he was a leading member of his profession in Toronto.

It is an important report that points to perhaps the most critical area requiring further action to prevent suicide. It addresses what has become an epidemic in some communities.

The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development has outlined a huge array of initiatives that the government is taking. The minister is wise enough to know, as we all do, that no one program will end this problem overnight.

We need to study what is working well and what is not as well as determine where we can make a difference with greater or reinforced investments--

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I will stop the hon. member there as his time has expired.

The hon. member for Northumberland—Quinte West.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to pay tribute to the many families across Canada, and specifically in the north, who have dealt with the sorrow of losing a loved one to suicide. We recognize that differences in economic circumstances, education, living conditions and physical environment can prevent a proportion of our population from achieving optimum mental health and well-being. This includes children, youth, and families living in the north's remote and rural communities.

Investing in positive mental health is an important step in promoting good health and preventing illness. That is why the government is taking action to help aboriginal children and their families in Canada's north address the tragic issue of youth suicide.

The government is funding programs that build their strength on protective factors such as ensuring family and community support. The national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy, the interdepartmental family violence initiative and the building healthy communities initiatives are examples of mental health promotion programs the government is funding to support Inuit and first nations populations in Canada's three northern territories.

Canada's north comprises a vast geography which presents unique conditions and challenges not seen in the south. Nunavut alone, with a population of 33,000, makes up 20% of Canada's land mass and contains 25 communities accessible only by airplane. It also has Canada's youngest and fastest growing population.

The hon. Minister of Finance tabled a budget in the House last year which included nearly $1 billion in investments for aboriginal people. This included $285 million for aboriginal health programs including funding to continue the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy until the year 2015.

In the three territories, the national aboriginal youth suicide prevention strategy has provided close to $4 million over four years to support community-based solutions focused on resilience, embracing and celebrating life, and creating supportive environments.

I am pleased that the Government of Nunavut has also used funds from this initiative to help the Nunavut suicide prevention action plan and has committed to use the federal national aboriginal youth prevention strategy to implement that plan.

The government, along with the provinces, territories and community groups, is working to find better ways to promote mental health among Canadians. Differences in economic circumstances, education, living conditions and the physical environment can prevent a proportion of our population from achieving optimum mental health and well-being. This includes children, youth, and families living in the north's remote and rural communities. That is why earlier this spring the government announced funding for innovative community-based projects to improve the mental health of Canadian children, youth and families across the country through the Public Health Agency of Canada's innovation strategy. As part of this announcement, the government provided $2.4 million over five years to the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre in Iqaluit, Nunavut to help address needs identified by northerners, to ensure good mental health and physical health for aboriginal children and youth in their communities.

As we work with this generation of youth to build their future, we must at the same time continue our recognition of the legacy of Indian residential schools and the intergenerational impact that experience is having throughout northern families and communities.

The government understands the significance of building healthy communities. As such, investing in health-promoting activities aimed at maintaining and improving the well-being of our aboriginal people in the territories is also a key priority. Research has clearly shown the importance of giving children a positive and early start to education. In the territories, with its young population experiencing rapid change, this is ever so crucial in building a healthy next generation.

The aboriginal head start program in urban and northern communities does just that by addressing the needs of high-risk children and their families. It is creating a supportive and culturally based early learning environment in 19 territorial communities focused on language, school readiness, health promotion, parental involvement, nutrition and social support.

Our government is committed to continuing to help ensure that the north is a safe, healthy and prosperous place to live.

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, if the mental health of first nations is so important to the Conservative government, why was nearly $500,000 cut from the Wapikoni project, which helps youth who are often at risk of committing suicide? Mental health is a very important aspect of this project. Why was funding slashed?

Opposition Motion--National Suicide Prevention Strategy
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not know the specific circumstances to which the member refers. However, had she listened to my speech she would have heard that literally tens of millions of dollars went to individual communities right across this country.

As a former police officer who has worked in the north of Ontario, especially northeastern Ontario and along the James Bay and Hudson Bay coast, I can say that both provincial and federal governments continue to work hard to address the situation of suicide and particularly among our youth.

As I mentioned, the north has some unique circumstances. There are communities located literally hundreds of miles away from the closest road. There are no mines, no forest industry and no opportunities for employment. The struggle is how to encourage employment. How do we create jobs and an economic atmosphere for those communities to enjoy the same kind of lifestyle as those further south that are close to highways and the like?

Inasmuch as the member has referred to some programs that may have been cut, in addition there are many programs that have been created that are addressing not only the circumstances of suicide regarding the young but in communities also.

From a family perspective I can say that I am aware of and understand some of the circumstances mentioned by one of the previous questioners regarding the living conditions in Pikangikum. They relate specifically to the isolation of that community vis-à-vis its closeness to employment opportunities and the tremendous challenges most northern communities have.