Mr. Speaker, I am very excited and very proud to rise today, for the first time since Parliament resumed, to represent and defend the interests of the people of my riding, whom I always represent with pride and dignity. I am talking about the good people of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, whom I salute.
The subject we are talking about today is very important to us. Mental health affects every Quebecker and every Canadian. In today's complex, extremely demanding and ever-changing world, more and more people are experiencing mental health problems.
In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an explosion in the need for mental health care among Quebeckers and Canadians. Some people are even talking about a mental health crisis. The uncertainty, the anxiety and the hardship caused by this unprecedented situation have largely contributed to this secondary epidemic, which often slips under the radar. The Bloc Québécois will be supporting Bill C-323, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act (mental health services), precisely because we believe in the importance of facilitating and promoting access to mental health care. This measure is designed to improve the affordability of psychotherapy and mental health counselling services by exempting them from the GST, the goods and services tax.
As we go through the worst inflationary crisis in 40 years, it has become hard for middle-class people to make ends meet. Times are tough for many people. Everything is more expensive, including mortgages, rent, groceries, gas and equipment. When forced to choose between feeding their children or going to psychotherapy, pretty well everyone will choose the former. In that context, the Bloc Québécois believes that it is a good idea for the federal government to waive the GST on those services in order to give everyone a bit of breathing space. Investing in our mental health is always a win-win and is something to be encouraged.
Before going any further, I will answer a simple question: What is psychotherapy? Psychotherapy is a type of psychological treatment that aims to bring about changes in a person's attitude, behaviour or way of thinking so that person can feel better, find answers to their questions, solve problems, make decisions and understand themselves better. It has been regulated in Quebec since 2012 under Bill 21 from 2009, guaranteeing Quebeckers quality services.
Although mental health counselling is not a regulated profession or one subject to legal guidelines, it can be a meaningful and useful form of therapy. However, the Quebec psychologists' association points out that it is essential to check the service provider's training credentials before choosing that option, as counselling can be offered by individuals with widely varying levels of expertise and ethical obligations.
Quebec has long been a pioneer in social and health care policy. Our legislation in the field of psychotherapy in particular has been emulated by several provinces, including Ontario. We have always taken Quebeckers' well-being seriously, and that is reflected in our commitment to providing quality mental health services.
Because mental health issues are invisible, because prejudice about them persists, and because they are often taboo, mental health services are undervalued compared to other health services. However, mental health is just as essential to our health as physical health, which is why it is important to end some of the tax inequalities that still exist with respect to mental health services. For example, many health services relating to physical health are already zero-rated, such as optometry, nutrition services and occupational therapy. There is also a disparity between the various professional orders that can provide psychotherapy services. For instance, psychotherapy falls within the areas of expertise and practice of both physicians and psychologists. Since all their services are zero-rated, psychotherapy provided by a physician or psychologist is already zero-rated. If, however, it is provided by a member of one of the seven professional orders authorized to offer psychotherapy, it will be taxed.
We need to update our tax legislation to reflect the progress made in regulating psychotherapy in Quebec. Mental health services are just as essential as physical health services and it is time we treated them the same way in the tax system. Bill C-323 meets this need by levelling the playing field for all by completely eliminating the tax on these services, regardless of who provides them.
When it comes to access to mental health services, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room any longer: The inadequacy of the federal health transfers has a significant impact on our health care systems in the provinces and in Quebec.
On April 1, 2023, more than 20,400 people were waiting for mental health services in Quebec. Our public system is under pressure and, unfortunately, it will not improve any time soon because there is not enough money in the system.
We must keep in mind that Quebec and the provinces asked for $280 billion over 10 years but only received a fraction of this amount, a meagre $46 billion. This funding gap compromises our ability to meet the mental health needs of our citizens.
The Bloc Québécois would like to remind the federal government that it is still difficult to access mental health services in the public system. This is largely due to the inadequacy of health transfers.
When it comes to mental health, Quebec is not simply asking for additional funding. Since the 1980s, the Quebec government has developed mental health policies aimed at increasing access to and improving the quality of services provided to our constituents. These policies have evolved over time to adapt to the changing needs of society. We have integrated mental health care and prevention in a health and social services network since 1998. Successive action plans have strengthened this integration, fostering collaboration between health care stakeholders to speed up the healing process.
We understood that quick intervention could prevent the need for more specialized care. The most recent action plan, known as “Le Plan d’action interministériel en santé mentale 2022-2026 — S’unir pour un mieux-être collectif”, shows our ongoing commitment to mental health. This plan was developed in consultation with various community groups, researchers, workers and civil society groups. Several departments are involved, and the total investment in the plan has reached $1 billion over five years. The Quebec plan covers seven key areas and focuses on promoting mental health, improving access to care and preventing mental disorders. However, the needs are greater than ever, and we need to keep doing more.
In my riding, in the Lower St. Lawrence, requests for mental health counselling have doubled in recent years. In response to the reality of rural life and the lifestyle of agricultural workers, a farm outreach service was created by the Union des producteurs agricoles du Bas-Saint-Laurent. I am proud to support this initiative, which helps us take care of our people.
In conclusion, Bill C-323 is an important step in improving access to psychotherapy and mental health counselling services in Quebec and Canada. In keeping with Quebec's reputation as a pioneer in the field of mental health, the Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill.
We believe in a strong, innovative, united Quebec, where everyone has access to quality mental health care. That is why we will continue to press the federal government to increase health transfers, because Quebec and the provinces need more resources to meet the rising demand for mental health care.