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Prime Minister Stephen Harper shares a laugh with Canadian Mental Health Commission chairman Michael Kirby after an Ottawa news conference on Aug. 31, 2007.


We have another six to eight weeks of mindless, ill-informed election speculation and commentary on political ads. So lots of time for that nonsense in the days ahead.

Speaking instead of commercials most of us have seen or heard, Bell Canada has a spot featuring that wonderful Olympic champion Clara Huges talking about mental health. As she reminds us, one in five Canadians struggle with some form of mental illness. She herself has battled depression and has courageously gone public to talk about her wars with the dreaded "black dog," as Winston Churchill - another depression sufferer - once dubbed the disease.

When addressing some of the achievements of Stephen Harper's government five years on, one that seemed overlooked was its determination to make inroads, with the vital assistance of former Liberal senator Michael Kirby, in fighting the plethora of mental illnesses that cripple so many Canadians. Not unlike depression or any other disease of the mind, which do not discriminate based on political creed, the Canadian war on mental health has been a multi-party effort that must never cease.

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Stemming from the fantastic report on our mental wellness penned by Kirby and his fellow senators, the Harper government established in its first term the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Kirby was chosen to lead it. Launched in August of 2007, the MHCC has eight advisory committees and 24 projects in place to support its key initiatives, namely a 10-year anti-stigma campaign, building a pan-Canadian knowledge exchange centre, and facilitate a national mental health strategy for Canada.

In its 2007 budget, the Harper government committed $130-million over 10 years toward the creation of the MHCC to act as a national focal point for these matters. An additional $110-million over five years was provided in 2008 to undertake research demonstration projects on homelessness and mental health. The federal government continues to support research on mental health and addictions through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, investing over $234-million since 2006. Also, this government funds and provides mental health programs and services for eligible Canadians under federal jurisdiction, including $65-million over five years to implement the National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy.

All of these actions are huge steps in a massive struggle to keep Canadians well. They have been done collaboratively and they don't fit the narrative that opponents of the Harper government often peddle, which suggests he doesn't play well with others. Both the creation of the MHCC and the funding it and other initiatives received came from minority Parliament co-operation.

Beginning to address the mental health needs of Canadians is both good policy and good politics. Harper is the first prime minister to give the issue such priority and in turn fight the first challenges of any mental illness: their stigma. Micheal Kirby deserves full credit for being a key instigator.

What they both did was an important achievement seemingly forgotten by many when assessing the past five years of Harper rule. This is not something that should be so easily discounted. Believe you me, as someone who grew up perplexed and saddened by a glorious grandfather mysteriously paralyzed by an invisible pain whose only treatment at the time was something ominously horrible called "electric-shock treatment," I won't diminish the importance of the steps taken by this prime minister on mental health.

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