As members know, the bill would expand the category of health care services exempt from point-of-sale taxes to include psychotherapy and mental health services. Members also know that physical health services, such as chiropractic and physiotherapy services, are already exempt from federal sales taxes. Eliminating that sales taxes from psychotherapy and mental health services would be one step further and would only be fair, because there are so many other services that are so similar that do not have to provide that federal sales tax on their services.
There should not be any health care service taxes in this country. Furthermore, all services, be it mental health care, dental care, pharmacare, physical health care, need to be covered in a way that is universal and free for all people in this country. A tax exemption is a small step in the right direction, which would reduce the cost of these services directly and increase access to them, so this is an important bill.
In December 2021, I had the honour of introducing my private member's bill, Bill C-218 in the House. Interestingly, my bill would also have amended the Excise Tax Act to exempt psychotherapeutic services delivered by psychotherapists and counsellors from the goods and services tax. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, so once again, I thank the member for Cumberland—Colchester. Ultimately, Bill C-323 is so similar to my own bill, but as someone who is 175th on the list of precedence in private members' bills, I am happy to see this bill being brought forward. I am happy to support it.
I want to bring a little bit of historical context for the introduction of why I introduced Bill C-218. It was because of a local psychotherapist in London, Stephanie Woo Dearden, a registered psychotherapist, who asked me to take action on the issue. She contacted me in the fall of 2021, and so I did my research. I discovered that this bill had actually already been previously introduced by an NDP MP, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, in 2017, and I would like to thank him for his work on this issue. Like Bill C-323, our private members' bills work to ensure that psychotherapists are treated fairly, the same as their fellow practitioners in other health care fields. This bill would work to create equality among those who do the same kind of work and are exempt from the excise tax.
I was very happy to hear my colleague's speech earlier saying that the Liberals will be supporting the bill to go to committee. However, I urge them to fully support this very simple but necessary bill so that they can rectify the blatant tax inequality that has occurred. The government says that Canadians' mental health is a priority, and this is a key opportunity for it to do something that is very easy to do to ensure that something good is done for Canadians' mental health.
Just this past March, I presented a petition in the House of Commons to remove GST from counselling therapy and psychotherapy services, and that petition received over 14,000 signatures. I thank Barbara MacCallum for bringing that forward. There were so many signatories, 14,000, because they saw that the government must act to rectify this error, and it is quite a simple thing that the government can do.
According to the Canada Revenue Agency, if a profession is regulated as a health profession by at least five provinces or territories, the services of that profession are exempt from GST/HST. Now, the profession of counselling therapy or psychotherapy meets this criteria, and it has for some time. However, a tax exemption was refused because the provinces regulating the profession had different titles, but counselling therapy and psychotherapy are the same profession, as demonstrated by a shared scope of practice, comparable qualification requirements and aligned codes of ethics. They are also recognized under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement. The federal government must respect the expertise and practices of provinces and territories in the health care field with regard to naming their professions. My bill, Bill C-218, as well as Bill C-323, demand just that.
We all know the impact that COVID-19 has had on people's mental health, and it was certainly a crisis before the pandemic. However, we are seeing the consequences on folks now, and I see it my riding.
People are stressed out, and they are worrying increasingly about their skyrocketing mortgage payments, the increase in food prices and increases of the climate crisis. All of this stress builds up, and people need more and more support. The bill is a small but good first step toward helping people, but there are a lot of barriers that get in the way of the availability of psychotherapy and counselling to the degree people need it.
As we know, right now in Canada, provinces are spending about 5% to 7% of their budgets on mental health. Some percentages, sadly, are even lower. In my province of Ontario, it is at 3% under the Conservative government, yet many OECD countries spend about 12% to 14%. In the U.K., it is higher than that.
We have a two-tiered health care system in this country when it comes to mental health. This is a huge part of the problem. Getting help should not be dependent on how much money one has. New Democrats believe that everyone should have access to mental health supports, including psychotherapy, and we believe everyone deserves timely access to a full range of mental health treatments and services.
Last spring, I held a round table and a town hall in my riding, and I would like to thank the member for Courtenay—Alberni for joining me in that discussion to discuss those key issues around mental health care. I was honoured to speak with key community leaders and hear about their challenges. We talked about the need for parity between physical and mental health in our country.
According to the report by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, fewer than one in three people with current mental health concerns is accessing mental health services. Key barriers to accessing these services are, of course, financial constraints and long wait-lists. The people around that table spoke to me about the need to meet people where they are in this discussion, so just like everyone is an individual, their mental health journey is an individual journey. Just because one form of help is right for someone, it may not be something that someone else needs, and we need to work together to figure out all those different layers and forms of help people need.
Another thing we need to change in our system is how we treat key people who are delivering the mental health care we need. Many of those frontline professionals are in jobs that do not pay them a living wage. Because they are providing urgent care or social work, they told me, they felt less valued by the system. They also felt that governments do not fund those programs adequately. Governments think these workers do these jobs solely because they want to help people, as though that altruism should be free and as though those workers do not have student loans, mortgages or bills to pay.
Many attended that round table, and they warned us that, like the frontline workers we see in the health care sector right now, mental health care workers are leaving their professions in droves because they do not have adequate pay, stable pensions, the benefits they need or safe working conditions. These services are critical, and it is up to governments to ensure that those workers have the supports they need to be able to provide the services others need.
Other mental health care workers told me that, while they see people in extreme crisis, mental illness is not the sole cause. Yes, there are people who live with a number of diagnosed psychiatric ailments, but so many whom they treat now are dealing with prolonged stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. These are caused by other factors, such as homelessness, physical sexual abuse and poverty, and these are things that the government has to address as well. The workers demanded that the government deal with these problems so that people could move away from relying so heavily upon mental services while dealing with the man-made stresses we create, ensuring that people live in these debilitating cycles.
In conclusion, the bill is a good step forward, as I have said. It is a small step, but a good step forward, and I support it because I support my own bill, so I support this one.
Canadians who are seeking help with mental health services should not be reliant upon the fact that they cannot pay for them, so I and New Democrats support the bill. I want to thank everybody who helped me to develop Bill C-218 and who will continue to work to force things such as this bill and this issue to move forward.