Mr. Speaker, it is quite difficult to deliver this intervention after the conversation we just had in the House. However, the business of the government has to continue.
I appreciate the opportunity to take part in today's second reading of a private member's bill, Bill C-323, an act to amend the Excise Tax Act in relation to mental health services. As we know, this bill would exempt supplies of psychotherapy and mental health counselling services from the goods and services tax and the harmonized sales tax, or the GST/HST. At the outset, I am pleased to announce that the government and I will be supporting this private member's bill to go forward to committee for further study.
Our government has a proven record of supporting the delivery of mental health services for Canadians, and we look forward to building on this record with Bill C-323. At the same time, my colleagues will know that our government also likes to ensure that we get things right.
The creation of tax legislation is an area of public policy where we certainly do not want to get things wrong, as the results can be particularly costly and unfair to Canadians. That is why our preference is ordinarily that tax changes, such as those proposed in Bill C-323, be undertaken through the budget process. This enables us to fully consider trade-offs, balance priorities, close potential loopholes and undertake new fiscal commitments only to the extent that they are fair and affordable.
This sort of policy safeguarding is typically undertaken by the tax professionals and lawyers at the finance department. However, when it comes to this private member's bill, Bill C-323, this responsibility will fall to us as parliamentarians. There are some important considerations that we will need to address in this regard before moving the bill past the House.
As I am not sitting on the finance committee, and I understand this bill would go to the finance committee, I would like to talk about some of the policy considerations regarding Bill C-323. I hope my colleagues, especially the member proposing the bill, whom I have the honour and privilege of sitting with on the health committee, will take note of this.
We know, for example, that the policy underlying the GST/HST treatment of the health care sector generally exempts basic health care services from the GST/HST. We also know that, to determine which services should be considered basic health care services for the purpose of ascertaining eligibility for this exemption, the federal government looks to provincial funding and regulatory practices as key criteria. This is appropriate, since they are on the front lines in delivering health care to Canadians. More specifically, if a service is covered by the health care plan of two or more provinces, it may be exempted from the GST/HST in all provinces. Likewise, if a profession is regulated as a health care profession by at least five provinces, the services of that profession may be exempt from the GST/HST in all provinces.
Under the status quo, psychotherapy and mental health counselling are not covered by the public health insurance program of any province and are not regulated in at least five provinces; this is why they are not eligible to be considered for a GST/HST exemption. Psychotherapy services provided by a psychologist or other health professional, such as a physician, nurse or social worker, are already exempt if the services are within the scope of practice of their profession.
In short, provincial policies currently determine what medical services should be considered for a GST/HST exemption, and it is based on these policies that psychotherapy and mental health counselling are not currently exempt from the GST/HST. I think we have to bear this in mind and remain sensitive to the fact that we are doing a bit of an end run around this process as we move forward with Bill C-323.
Exempting the GST and HST on psychotherapy and mental health counselling services, as proposed by Bill C-323, could undermine the long-standing criteria established by deciding whether services of recognized health practitioners should be GST and HST exempt. This, in turn, could make it more difficult to make objective decisions on any future requests to exempt other services.
There are important questions related to this bill that must be examined more closely at committee. The most fundamental one is whether this bill will apply in the same way in each province. This is a basic question of fairness for all Canadians. I think we need to also better understand how each province regulates the health care practitioners this bill targets and how each province defines the services it provides for the purpose of health care.
Should this bill make it to the finance committee, with our government's support it is our hope that provincial health officials, mental health service providers, mental health advocates and other experts can testify to shed light on these issues that I have discussed.
On a completely personal note, since 2015, I have had the honour and privilege of being a member of this House. I have always advocated for parity when it comes to mental and physical health. I believe this might be a gateway for us to open that conversation. Although I know this is a narrow passage, I think it is a great opportunity for us to engage in a broader conversation. Naturally, it will not be at the finance committee. However, it is something we should consider.
I just want to quickly talk about a few of our government's achievements and focus in support of mental health since 2015. Canadians can rest assured that our government has already made it a top priority to invest in mental health services for Canadians and will move forward on this basis.
I want to talk about the most recent budget, budget 2023, which proposes to provide a total of $359 million over five years starting in 2023-24, with $5.7 million ongoing, and a $1.3-million remaining amortization in support of the renewed Canadian drug and substance strategy, which will guide our government's work to save lives and protect the health and safety of Canadians. Also, our government has provided about $158 million over three years, starting in 2023-24, to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the implementation and operation of the 988 suicide prevention line.
In conclusion, I would like to highlight the fact that we are making investments because a strong and effective public health care system is essential to the well-being of Canadians, which includes mental health care. It is also an important foundation of a growing, healthy economy. Our economy is stronger when people are healthy and can get the care they need before a complication arises or they are in crisis. Our government will move forward in supporting Bill C-323 on this understanding, but we also want to make sure that we get it right. We look forward to hearing from key stakeholders at the finance committee.
Once again I thank my colleague for bringing this bill forward. Many constituents in my riding are looking forward to having this bill passed, and hopefully amended, to address the concerns we have so they can get the services that are much needed in the community. I look forward to the debate on the bill at the finance committee.