September 22, 2021
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Dear Prime Minster Trudeau,
On behalf of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW), I would like to extend our sincere congratulations on your re-election. We look forward to continuing to work with your government for a fairer, better future for all those who call Canada home.
As background for you, CASW is the national association voice for social workers in Canada, working to strengthen and promote the profession while advancing issues of social justice. CASW is an organization known for its commitment to equity and human rights for all those who live in Canada, and was strongly supportive of many of the historic changes brought during your previous mandate, including the creation of the national housing and national poverty reduction strategies, the introduction of the new Canada Child Benefit, and increases to investments in mental health and for seniors. We applaud these achievements and their contribution to a better society and hope to see your government build on this strong record.
That said, the next crucial step in ensuring Canadians’ health and well-being, as well as helping to address the ongoing opioid crisis and reduce the overall burden of health care costs in our country, is bringing about Mental Health and Substance Use Parity in Canada.
Mental Health Parity is the simple idea that mental health and issues with substance use must be treated on par with physical health: evidence shows that our physical and mental health are linked not only to one another, but to social and economic well-being. Further, the lack of timely and accessible mental health and substance use services for so many across Canada is not only troubling from a human perspective, but results in huge costs to our healthcare systems as individuals cycle in and out of emergency rooms, or see their physical health decline as a result of mental illness.
From CASW’s perspective, legislating Mental Health Parity is the only way to force the system change required to realize equity of access to mental and physical health care, which will foster well-being, create equity, and save lives. Additionally, Mental Health Parity is a concept that has been successfully operationalized in other countries: for further context and background, please consult our background paper on this topic and the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health’s position paper on the case for a Mental Health and Substance Use Health Care for All Parity Act in Canada.
To support both the spirit and the practical application of Mental Health Parity and guarantee that mental health and substance use receive the federal attention required for change, CASW recommends that you create a new Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing. Presently, there are no federal departments or agencies that specifically address mental health and substance use issues. Given the seamless relationship between the two, there needs to be a shift from addressing mental health and problematic substance use in isolation to a joint approach towards overall mental wellness.
CASW proposes that the creation of a federal Minister of Mental Health and Wellbeing would highlight the importance of considering the various factors contributing to mental health and wellbeing, including the role of substance use. Furthermore, the creation of such an office would affirm, complement, and support the many excellent initiatives ongoing in different provinces and territories to address mental illness, support mental health and recovery, including dedicated strategies and plans to address suicide and the opioid crisis.
The federal government has a responsibility to provide a coordinated vision and leadership – not lag behind – the provinces’ and territories’ work in this area. Through your investments during the previous mandate, we know your government understands the critical importance of supporting mental health and well-being. This new Minister would cement mental health as a fiduciary, social, and philosophical priority in our country.
Further to these important new initiatives, CASW urges you to recommit to important pursuits that were not completed during the last mandate: the elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing with regards to substance use, and the banning of conversion therapy. We look forward to the fulfillment of your election promise to re-introduce Bill C-22, as well as legislation to eliminate the practice of conversion therapy for all people in Canada, within the first 100 days in office.
Finally, we applaud your campaign promise to include Social Workers in the Canada Student Loan forgiveness program, and to increasing the debt relief available by 50%. This will go a long way in recruiting and retaining social workers in rural and remote communities, and to providing better care in these critically underserved regions. We enthusiastically await this promise’s swift implementation and would be delighted to meet with your government at your convenience to help support this work.
CASW looks forward to supporting you and the federal government in the implementation of positive changes for Canada. Again, on behalf of the CASW federation, I extend our sincere congratulations on your re-election and CASW awaits your next steps as Prime Minister of Canada with great hope and optimism.
Joan Davis-Whelan, MSW, RSW