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Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, right, talks with eight-year-old Mila Greco, left, and and her mom Trisha Greco at their home during a campaign announcement of proposed mental health funding in Kanata, Ont., on Aug. 31.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Liberals are promising to create a new, permanent health transfer to provinces and territories for mental health care, at an initial cost of $4.5-billion over five years.

Speaking at a private residence on Tuesday in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the past 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic have been tough on parents, seniors, children, essential workers and those who have faced racism and discrimination.

“No matter who you are, you deserve the right support,” Mr. Trudeau said. “And that includes on mental health.”

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The new health transfer would help establish mental health care standards in the provinces and territories, Mr. Trudeau said, as his party promised to expand free services.

The Liberals said if re-elected, they would also spend $500-million over four years to improve student mental health on campus, launch a national, three-digit mental health support hotline, and spend $2-billion over five years on a mental health and wellness strategy with First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nations.

Mr. Trudeau, whose party has faced criticism for calling an election during the pandemic, also on Tuesday acknowledged that Canada is in a fourth wave of COVID-19, primarily among unvaccinated people.

“That is cause for concern,” Mr. Trudeau said.

According to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada released last week, hospitalizations grew by 39 per cent week over week, with 29 per cent more people in intensive care. Most reported cases, hospitalizations and deaths are occurring among unvaccinated people, the health agency said. Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Theresa Tam is expected to release new modelling at a briefing this week.

Mr. Trudeau was also asked by a reporter about decriminalizing opioids, and he said his party is willing to work with provinces such as British Columbia who are looking into such measures. “We are absolutely open to working with them in a responsible way,” Mr. Trudeau said. “But I will remind people there is no one silver bullet to counter the opioid epidemic.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has also released a mental health action plan, which centres around boosting health transfers to the provinces by six per cent annually, doubling what the Liberals have committed, a move Mr. O’Toole said would allow the provinces to spend more on mental health services.

The Conservative plan would also offer employers a tax credit for 25 per cent of the cost of additional mental health coverage for the first three years, and $150-million over three years in grants to non-profits and charities delivering mental health and wellness programming. The party also pledges a nationwide three-digit suicide prevention hotline.

Mr. O’Toole’s plan promises to provide $1-billion over five years in funding for Indigenous mental health and drug treatment programs, including providing culturally appropriate supports.

The Conservative Leader is set to make an announcement about his platform later on Tuesday, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will also hold a news conference.

Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday appeared in the riding of Kanata-Carleton, where Liberal incumbent Karen McCrimmon has announced she is not running for re-election. Ms. McCrimmon was elected in 2019 with 43 per cent of the vote, followed by the Conservatives at 36.5 per cent.

The Liberal Leader again used an appearance in Ontario to link Mr. O’Toole to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who is keeping a low profile during the federal campaign and has not held a news conference in a month.

“We can’t afford Erin O’Toole sitting across the table from Doug Ford, or any other premier. Not on health care. Not on mental health. And not on vaccines, schools, or child care,” Mr. Trudeau said.

However, he did not criticize the Premier when asked if schools are safe, instead focusing his comments towards Mr. O’Toole and Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, whom the Liberal Leader will face off with in a French-language debate on Thursday.

“Obviously I’m worried as a parent, because my seven-year-old can’t get vaccinated. And the best way to keep him safe, the best way to keep all of our kids safe, is to make sure that adults are doing their part,” Mr. Trudeau said.

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