Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives are setting mental health as one of the party’s top priorities.
In what could be seen as a precursor to an election campaign, PC Leader Tim Houston released the comprehensive plan in Halifax last week.
“We want to put this forward because it’s really important to me that Nova Scotians know what I as a leader stand for, what our party stands for and really has a sense of what we will do, what our vision is for this province,” said Houston.
The centerpiece of the plan is to pull mental health out of the health portfolio and make a new department with a dedicated minister to be accountable.
Houston says the province already spends over $344 million on mental health services each year, which separated out would make it the seventh largest department by budget behind Community Services, Education, Health, Justice, Labour and Advanced Education and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal.
“The bill’s already on the table,” said Houston. “What we’re doing is saying, look, we’re willing to pick up the bill, acknowledge the bill and deal with it. Because the cost to our society of people not getting health care, not getting addictions and mental health support when they need it, the cost is tremendous.”
Houston says statistics show 500,000 Canadians will miss work this year because of a mental health ailment.
The PC plan would invest in universal mental health care by creating new billing codes for mental health to allow private mental health professionals to bill the province for their services.
Houston says that allows every Nova Scotian to access mental health services when they are needed.
“If you have money in your pocket, you can get private care or if you work for an employer that has coverage you can get private care, but for everyone else you can’t. That’s called a two-tier system where those who have money can get treatment and those who don’t, can’t, and this country, this province, we’re not on with two-tiered systems. Health care access, addictions and mental health access, it has to be universal. Everyone should be able to access it,” said Houston.
Any Nova Scotia who currently has mental health coverage through an existing plan would be expected to use that first and provisions would be made to ensure employers couldn’t cut mental health care coverage from their health plans.
As the third pillar of the plan, Houston hopes more mental health professionals will be attracted to the province once they see the supports are in place.
Houston says bringing those professionals to Nova Scotia will reduce wait times for help, which can currently be up to a year.
“There’s nothing worse right now than someone in a crisis who goes to the emergency room and spends hours and hours and hours, waiting and waiting, only to probably be told to call another line on Monday morning. That’s very, very cruel,” said Houston. “Well, I guess something worse than that is the person that doesn’t go to the emergency room because they’re worried about the stigma.”
Houston admits most people would generally equate the PC Party with fiscal restraint and not progressive social policy, but said they would be missing part of the party’s core ideals.
“We have always been a socially progressive party. Yes, fiscally responsible but government that’s accountable, government that listens, and you see that in what we do when we’re in government,” said Houston. “We have a human rights commission in this province because of a PC government. A lot of people don’t know, Nova Scotia only the ninth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage – under a PC government because one of our core values is to be socially progressive.”
Houston says opposition parties don’t generally provide detailed policy plans but he would be happy to see the sitting liberal government take theirs and run with it, because the mental health of Nova Scotians is too important to wait.
Reported by Ed Halverson