More treatment options. More supportive housing. And, most of all, more money.
Representatives from the four main political parties agreed on many points Tuesday night, including that mental-health and addictions systems have historically been chronically underfunded in Manitoba.
The national average for Canadian provinces and territories when it comes to mental-health and addictions funding is around 7.2 per cent of their health-care budgets. Manitoba lags behind, investing about 5.1 per cent.
Twenty-one community agencies, co-chaired by Sara Riel Inc. and Jewish Child and Family Services, organized a community mental-health and addictions forum at the Asper Jewish Community Campus in River Heights on Tuesday night.
The community groups called on whichever party forms government next to address the sector’s funding shortfalls and increase mental-health and addictions care budgets to nine per cent of health-care budgets to address the previous lack of funding.
Candidates from the four main political parties agreed there was more investment needed, especially in prevention and early intervention services for youth, where the community groups recommended spending eight per cent of the health-care budget.
Andrea Shalay, the Green party candidate for Union Station, said her party would want to spend around 10 per cent of the health-care budget on prevention, while Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard said his party would aim higher with 10 to 20 per cent spending in the area.
Cameron Friesen, the PC MLA for Morden-Winkler and former health minister, wouldn’t commit to particular funding targets, but called the eight per cent figure a "legitimate, worthy goal."
He also hinted more flexible-length withdrawal beds, aimed at treating those with methamphetamine addictions, are on the way "within the coming days and weeks."
Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP candidate for Union Station, underscored the need to address the social determinants of health, including poverty and intergenerational trauma, to quell mental-health and addiction issues.
Asagwara, who works as a psychiatric nurse and addictions specialist, appeared to be the crowd favourite, receiving loud applause to almost every one of her responses to questions.
She repeatedly emphasized the need to bring diverse voices to decision-making tables when it comes to mental-health and addictions policy, including the perspectives of folks with lived experience and those from traditionally marginalized communities.
Gerrard received the first mid-question applause break of the night when he emphasized the province’s need to hire more psychologists. The province has 19 psychologists available per 100,000 people, while the national average sits at 49 per 100,000.
By press time, the candidates were just beginning to answer questions from the audience of about 150 people.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.