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Trudeau appoints Bennett as mental health and addictions minister in new cabinet

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new cabinet includes a new ministerial post to tackle mental health and addictions

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new cabinet includes a new ministerial post to tackle his election promises on mental health and addictions.

Carolyn Bennett, who served recently as minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, has been tapped to take on the new minister of mental health and addictions role.

The role has been separated from the rest of the health portfolio, which will be helmed by former Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos.

Duclos takes over as health minister from Patty Hajdu, who became the face of the federal government's response in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Liberals' platform promised a new federal transfer of $4.5 billion over five years to provinces and territories to provide accessible, free mental-health services.

Bennett will also be tasked with the development of a strategy to end the opioid crisis.

The promises also including eyeing other government policies through a mental health lens.

Trudeau vowed to review access to the disability tax credit and other federal benefits and programs to ensure mental health challenges are among the qualifications, as well as to include mental health as a specific element of occupational health and safety under the Canada Labour Code.

Prior to her election in 1997, Bennett, who will also serve as associate minister of health, was a family physician and an assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto.

She received the first-ever Champion of Mental Health Award from the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health in 2003.

One of the first orders of business for Duclos will be negotiations with provinces and territories who have demanded the federal government take on a greater share of the cost of delivering health care.

The pandemic put stress on provinces’ already stretched health systems, leaving intensive care and emergency rooms overcrowded and health workers burnt out.

As Canada moves into the next phase of pandemic recovery, the federal government will have to work closely with premiers to come to a new agreement on health-care transfers.

Premiers have asked for a meeting with Trudeau to ask the federal government to immediately grow its share of health-care costs from 22 to 35 per cent — an increase of about $28 billion more this year.

They're also asking for minimum funding increases of five per cent annually, arguing the current plan of three per cent jumps in spending means transfers don't keep pace with yearly cost increases.

Duclos is an accomplished economist, who was a tenured professor and director of the department of economics at Laval University prior to his election in 2015.

He will also be responsible for the Public Health Agency of Canada, and will work closely with chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam as Canada navigates the fourth wave of the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2021.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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