Copyright © 2019 Senator Dennis Patterson.

QP – Legalization of Cannabis—Mental Health and Addiction Services

The Honourable Jane Philpott, P.C., M.P., Minister of Indigenous Services 

April 24, 2018

Legalization of Cannabis—Mental Health and Addiction Services

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Welcome, minister.

On March 29, 2018, the Parliamentary Budget Officer reported that of the $14.4 billion announced in 2016 for phase 1 of the new infrastructure plan, $7.2 billion remains unspent.

Recently, in Nunavut, when consulting all 25 communities on the legalization of marijuana, I heard a clarion call from all 25 communities, every one of them, to have addiction treatment and mental health centres built in Nunavut where Inuit could benefit from culturally appropriate Northern-developed programs delivered by Inuit before the bill comes into force.

Minister, since Indigenous Services Canada now houses the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, will you commit to allocating some of these billions of dollars of unspent infrastructure funding to help build the social infrastructure required to provide the appropriate addiction treatment support that Nunavut communities are crying out for?

Hon. Jane Philpott, P.C., M.P., Minister of Indigenous Services: Thank you. I’m very happy to answer that, and it follows nicely on the previous question. I know that you, senator, are particularly interested in issues in the North and Nunavut, and I’m very happy to speak specifically to that.

The point that you raise, which I think is an excellent one, is that when we’re discussing issues such as cannabis, that the approach to the concerns around problematic substance use need to include the whole range — prevention, treatment, harm reduction, as well as enforcement — and that, in fact, the funding that we provide around mental wellness is very much in line with the preventative approach.

I’m happy to report that in the last fiscal year, from 2017 to 2018, our funding for mental wellness and addictions in Nunavut was $7.7 million. So a significant amount of funding is going to those issues there.

I will say that in large part that funding is not necessarily used for physical infrastructure but for the provision of services, including mental wellness teams. We now have five mental wellness teams across the North. We are also able to support traditional healers, which has been very well received and respectful of Indigenous approaches to mental wellness and addiction.

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I think in the area of providing additional services in mental health care and addictions care in terms of people power, there are considerable resources there.

You mentioned, though, the infrastructure issue. I will tell you — and I’d be happy to have further conversation with you about this — I know there has been an interest and a desire to develop a residential treatment facility in Nunavut. I’m happy to report that we have in fact funded a feasibility study for this in the order of $388,000 that we’ve provided to do the study. I’m expecting a report back by June of this year. It’s certainly something that we have heard there is great interest in because, yes, I think we can do a tremendous amount with on-the-land programs with counselling services, but there are times when you do require these residential facilities as well, and we look forward to what can be done there.