question period — Agriculture and Agri-Food

Mental Health Support for Farmers

February 5, 2020


Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)
[15:07]

Honourable senators, my question is for the government leader in the Senate.

Senator Gold, yesterday I, as well as many of our other colleagues, had the privilege of meeting and talking with dairy farmers who had come to Parliament Hill to raise a number of issues important to their industry, to their families and to themselves.

One issue that kept coming up in our discussions was mental health. Generations of farmers have never had the work-life balance we hear so much about in other professions. Their operations tend to be smaller and the cows have to be milked and cared for every day, year round. More and more dairy farmers are under a great deal of stress from new factors beyond their control imposed by this government, including trade deal concessions and carbon taxes, which have hurt their bottom line and added to their anxiety.

Senator Gold, dairy farmers contribute greatly to our society and our economy. What is the federal government doing to demonstrate that their mental health is a priority?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate)
[15:08]

Thank you for your question. I think all of us in this chamber, indeed all Canadians, understand how important the dairy industry is to our well-being and the well-being of our children. We grew up on milk. We stand here strong as a result of the work of so many families. I come from the province of Quebec, where the dairy industry is an important part not only of our economy but of our society.

I don’t have particular information, senator, with regard to programs that may or may not exist and are specifically targeted to members of the dairy industry. Mental health problems — not only in the dairy industry but in all industries — are a growing and proper concern to all of us. I will certainly make inquiries as to whether any particular programs are in place and I would be happy to report back in due course.

[15:09]

Thank you for that. We will await a response, hopefully in the near future.

Senator Gold, last May, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food in the other place released a study on mental health. One of its recommendations was that the Government of Canada invest in educating business partners and other stakeholders who work with farmers to detect the signs of distress in order to refer them to resources that can help them.

As you may know, Senator Gold, some organizations and provinces, including your own province of Quebec, are setting up outreach teams to go from farm to farm, to check on farms and try to break the stigma around mental health.

Senator Gold, why isn’t the federal government involved in more initiatives like this?

Senator Gold
[15:10]

I would be happy to inquire into the extent of the involvement of the federal government and its provincial counterparts — provinces having primary jurisdiction not only over agriculture but also health — and I would be happy to report back to the chamber.