Madam Speaker, what a moment. What an experience to stand in the House of Commons. I thank my constituents of Peterborough—Kawartha. I am here because of their support. I am here because they believed in me. I promise to do my best and do what I learned growing up in Douro, Ontario: work hard. Just like the Journey song says, I am just a small-town girl, and I truly believe in the lessons a small town teaches: help others with genuine service.
I want to take everyone back to June 2021. I received a call from a very distraught mom named Kim, whose daughter Cassy was missing. Cassy suffered from schizophrenia, and Kim felt the media was not giving her disappearance the attention it deserved, because she was a person who lived on the street. Kim did an interview with me on my social media, pleading with people to get Cassy home. Within 72 hours, Cassy was located in the sex trade in Toronto and brought home to Peterborough—Kawartha, thanks to the people on social media who shared that.
I never met Cassy. I just chatted with her mom, but I want to fast-forward to August 2021, during the campaign. Just outside of my campaign office was a very distraught and distressed woman. I approached her and asked how I could help. She looked into my eyes and told me she was scared. She told me she had nowhere to live and the people on the street were hurting her. I noticed a wings tattoo on her chest, the same tattoo her mom Kim had described to me when we put out a call to find her. I wondered if this could be her, so I asked if her name was Cassy. She said yes.
Cassy was like many people who are forced to live on the street and struggling with mental illness and addiction. She had a mom and a family who loved her, but that is not always enough. Trauma and circumstance landed Cassy here. She did not choose this life.
I want to point out that I am splitting my time with the member for Miramichi—Grand Lake.
Cassy did not choose this life. I did not see Cassy every day, but when I did, she was distraught, exhausted, hungry and afraid. She did not have a home, and she did not have the intervention to help get her the treatment she needed. On September 20, 2021, yes, the day of the election, while I was running around with my team, I received a text that cut me to the core. The text was from Cassy's mom, and it read, “Cassy is dead. She was the body behind the music store. Family still to be notified so I don't think they have released her name to the media.” I was absolutely shattered. I was gutted emotionally and heartbroken. I felt I had personally failed Cassy.
How did the system fail Cassy? How many more people like Cassy will be failed? In that moment, I questioned why I was running in politics and why it mattered. My partner Ryan was with me and, like a great partner does, he recalibrated me and picked me up. He took my hand and said that by taking this job as a member of Parliament, I could be part of the change that was needed for all people like Cassy.
I applied for this job because I know we can do better. We need to change how we talk about mental health; we need to better understand the complexities of addiction, and we need to change policy that intervenes when people like Cassy do not have the capacity to take care of themselves. We need the infrastructure and resources dedicated to building forward-thinking mental health treatment facilities. Mental health impacts every single one of us.
We have heard about so many programs and so much money being dumped into mental health, but the reality is that things are not getting better. They feel worse. Money does not solve everything. If we are not spending money in the right places or we do not have a reasonable timeline to allocate funds, vision or an innovative plan to partner with money, we cannot expect change. We need to change how we think and talk about mental health. This is what will help us change how we treat it. Humans have an incredible track record of not understanding something until we experience it.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, most of us have experienced how devastating mental illness is. Most of us know that our mental health contributes to our happiness, our creativity and our productivity, which are directly linked to our economy. Our economic crisis is a mental health crisis. How can we expect people who cannot afford food or a home to get out of the poverty cycle? We have to get the cost of living down if we want to be serious about mental health. We have to create an environment that fosters independence and confidence.
I was appointed as shadow minister of tourism, and I know first-hand how much this industry is suffering. Many of those devastated by the pandemic do not want more loans; they want to work. One of my favourite economic solutions comes from the member for Carleton, who said that programs and subsidies need to be three things: timely, targeted and temporary.
Much like I said earlier, this economic crisis is a mental health crisis, and I will work diligently to help in the recovery of lost jobs. We need to be reunited with friends and family. We need each other more than ever. We need to acknowledge and respect public health guidelines, but we also need to be more prepared to deal with what is our new normal. We need to transition to learning to live with COVID.
This pandemic has magnified the opioid crisis. My riding of Peterborough—Kawartha has one of the highest rates of opioid deaths in the country. We have the second-highest overdose rate in the province of Ontario. We have people dying in the streets and in their homes. I myself have lost friends and family to overdoses and suicide.
As I stand here today, I want to leave this message for myself and for all of the people of my riding of Peterborough—Kawartha: We cannot give up; we cannot stop. We must work every day to learn what works, but more importantly, what does not work. I will work for Peterborough—Kawartha and for every Cassy who was failed by the system, because I believe that when we take care of our neighbours, we take care of our entire country. We cannot stop believing.