Bureaucracy slows down the implementation of a three-digit suicide hotline

Just over a year ago, MP Todd Doherty introduced a motion into the House of Commons that called for “immediate action” to establish a three-digit, nation-wide, suicide prevention hotline. Support for the motion was bipartisan. Now, the government is facing criticism for its failure to act quickly on the motion’s implementation. 

As I am skeptical of most government decisions, it was gratifying to discover a proposal by an MP who I can wholeheartedly support and it’s encouraging to find that it was backed by all federal parties. But my skepticism of government was vindicated when I learned of the long wait and the bureaucracy holding back the establishment of 988 as a nation-wide suicide prevention hotline. 

The federal government has placed the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in charge of the implementation process. They are tasked with consulting with Canadians about whether they would want the hotline in the first place, and whether they would bear the cost of the service.

Forgive me, but I was not under the impression that “immediate action” equated to a long consultation process at a time when the mental health of Canadians seems to be, from all available data, in a particularly vulnerable position. First, the commission should not be asking the question as to whether the three-digit hotline should be established.

Bipartisan decisions in parliament are rare, and when conservatives and socialists agree on something, perhaps we don’t need to spend money on bureaucracy asking if its worth implementing. Second, it’s not really a question of cost.

I understand that governments can’t go around spending money that they don’t have (although I’m not sure they understand it), but on issues of health and justice there’s usually not much public debate or scrutiny. You cannot fund health services in every province and then become a penny pincher when people want to access the service through a simple hotline. Find the money, implement the service, and do so without complaining. 

The CRTC is clearly not the correct body to consult the public on this issue. An organization that has no history of mental health involvement that bears no cost if they’re sluggish? That’s who our elected officials have given responsibility to? The CRTC is most famous for allowing monopolies to exist in Canadian telecommunications, not for being adept at healthcare. 

The government is on the right track when it comes to the proposal of a three-digit suicide prevention hotline. I’m in the majority on that opinion. But this situation exposes the inefficiency of government agencies that are staffed by appointment and never have to face the public. If a politician gets it wrong, they are thrown out of office in the next election. If the CRTC is wrong, they still receive government funding and continue operations.

This is not an issue that can afford the slow pace of bureaucracy. This issue requires immediate attention. 

When 275 people attempt suicide every day in Canada, the establishment of a three-digit suicide prevention hotline should be a priority. Government should take action to speed up the process. 

Should you or someone you know ever need it, the current 11-digit suicide prevention hotline, run by Crisis Services Canada is 1-833-456-4566. A text hotline is also available at the number 45645.

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