Andrea Horwath says Ontario will have universal mental health care for the first time if her party is elected in June.
The Ontario NDP party leader announced that the party plans to expand OHIP to include mental health counselling and therapy, among other investments into the sector.
“Never has the need been so great. A silent epidemic of mental health struggles swept in with COVID, exposing just how broken Ontario’s system is,” Horwath said in a statement.
“Mental health care is health care. And together, we can do so much better. We can take action to fix it — so in Ontario, you’ll get mental health care with your OHIP card, not your credit card.”
The plan accounts for spending $1.15 billion yearly, outlining that it will cover a minimum of six therapy sessions through OHIP, invest $130 million over three years in youth mental health services as part of the Make Kids Count Action Plan, and aim to build 30,000 supportive housing units over 10 years for those with mental health and addiction issues.
Mary Rita Holland, Kingston’s candidate for the provincial NDP, says while the price tag is large it is an investment that can pay for itself over time.
She says the provincial government would anticipate running some deficits for “a few years” with this plan, but that it’s spending that is overdue.
“It’s important at this moment in our history that we start to transition away from doing things that we’ve always done that are kind of knee-jerk, band-aid solutions and look at preventing the harm that people end up experiencing,” Holland said.
“If we could govern in a way where it wasn’t a matter of just winning the next election but a matter of doing what’s best then we would have had these programs in place a long time ago.”
Overall, she says the party expects the new plan to save Ontario $10 billion over 5 years in healthcare costs.
Holland says the plan’s primary focus is on access, saying that is most of Ontario’s chief complaint when it comes to mental health care.
She says the plan looks to remove the financial barriers of mental health care, operating similarly to the Cancer Care Ontario model, but added that there will need to be a degree of flexibility so people can find the right care for them.
While stating it hasn’t specifically been discussed at the party level, the current Kingston City Councillor said a local initiative like the Integrated Care Hub would be an idea the party could stand behind.
Many of the NDP’s ideas would theoretically mitigate some of the primary issues faced by the Hub.
“I would say that it is a good illustration of the kind of service and cooperative model that we would be in support of,” Holland said.
“And we certainly support things like reducing stigma, safe supply and all the life saving interventions that the Integrated Care Hub provides.”
The party’s plan significantly exceeds the PC’s promise to invest $3.8 billion over the next decade into mental health care.
The plan was commended by CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn who said universal health care is what Ontario needs.
“Ontarians should never have had to pay out of pocket to get the mental health support they need – not in the best of times and certainly not over the course of this incredibly disruptive and stressful pandemic,” said Hahn.
Ontario’s election takes place on June 2.