COVID 1000 and Beyond: 1-on-1 with Minister Bennett


  • The Honourable Carolyn Bennett—Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health
  • Mary W. Rowe—President and CEO, Canadian Urban Institute, Toronto


A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Associate Minister of Health, shared that more than half of people in Canada felt their mental health has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic. She spoke of the need to reduce the stigma surrounding mental wellness, as well as the barriers to care that prevent people from seeking support for substance use. 

Minister Bennett also spoke about the illegal drug supply, which has become even more toxic with the presence of fentanyl, and how the rise of mutual aid has expanded the definition of the mental health workforce.

Finally, Minister Bennett spoke about the burnout that many frontline health responders continue to experience, and the importance of building a “resilient community” for practitioners so that they have the resources to continue to be able to do this hugely important work. 

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software.  Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:16:21
We’re very appreciative to have you join us just briefly, to talk a little bit about COVID-19. We’ve had a 1,000 days of this you were on the hot Seat, through the whole time we’re now facing the next 1,000 days and you can Appreciate that we hear from all the urban

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:16:35
Constituencies across the country, a concern about rising mental health challenges.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:16:45
So we’re very keen to hear your perspective in terms of what you see the priorities being for 2,023,

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:16:45
And how that is affecting return to downtown, main streets, housing all those things.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:16:55
Thank you so much, Mary, and I look what you said about people in places, and yeah, I’ve only

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:17:22
That you’re doing this, and for all the work that they’ve you, the K.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:17:26
Urban Institute does and and I. What a lovely way to frame it saying that 1,000 days in and now since Covid was declared a pandemic.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:17:36
But what are we gonna do on the 1,000 days up up!

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:17:40
And I, I will I will say that my youth council has been very clear with me, that they don’t want to see any bill back better stuff they don’t want to go back to anything.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:17:53
They want to leave forward into something that’s way.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:17:58
Fairer Way Greener, and more inclusive and so this is the opportunity.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:18:01
I think to that we’re kind of coming out to be able to have a vision for what really would work and as you’ve said, it’s no secret that the pandemic has taken considerable toll on individuals and families across the country isolation Financial Employment Uncertainty the

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:18:24
Increased stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, domestic violence.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:18:30
This and and I think as we’re hearing from the Fcm this week that that even the main streets look different in terms of homelessness, you know, people using drugs that this is a concern, as to how how it, has landed in our urban centers in a in

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:18:50
A different way. So I think that it’s again. you know this dad spared out that they’re more than half of people in Canada are feeling that their mental health has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic I think that we believe the fact that people are admitting that and

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:19:11
Are maybe talking about it, amongst their friends, that maybe that’s helpful and what we know we have to do in reducing the stigma, that if if people are prepared to admit that they’re Struggling with the mental wellness, but maybe even struggling with increased use of substances during

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:19:30
Covid that that it will help take away that barrier to seeking care that is stigma and so we also know, as you know, that to make matters even worse the illegal drug supply has become even more toxic with fentanyl car fentanyl, but also the addition

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:19:50
Of Benzodia has a pain which makes it much more difficult.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:19:56
To reduce, reverse a an overdose with Naloxone, but also the detox and withdrawal is very different and unpredictable, which means that detox centers and all these people, who think they’ve gone through the withdrawal have a surprise much later because

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:20:05

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:20:15
how, of how long acting, bezardiazepines are, and so when Naloxone Doesn’t Work with one or 2, doses and and I think we see that on the street that that it it can be.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:20:31
Fatal if people don’t understand the different of the mix, and some people need 3, 4, 5, doses, and and we are, you know, I think that it’s been amazing to watch really the Frontline, workers, in our Communities essential on Monday we met at the PAL Street, Getaway the in in the

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:20:54
downtown East Side, people who have moved to become harm, reduction, workers from their lived and Living Experience, that we are I think what we’re seeing is We’re really Expanding our understanding of who is in our mental Health, Workforce and it’s, not just with people with letters, after their name, and

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:21:00

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:21:03

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:21:11

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:21:13
No, no, and I think this one of the lessons we’ve seen from Covid.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:21:17
Is this, whole notion of mutual aid. Right yeah.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:21:19
Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, and I, and I also you know, I, I do, think that this is been huge.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:21:26
I mean who knew that we would have vaccinators.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:21:29

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:21:30
You know, I I that people could be trained to do a very specific task.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:21:35
Extra extraordinarily well, and so I think that as as we move to this different understanding more, and closer, whether it’s knowledge keepers and Elders or Peer, Support Peer, expert that this, is really Expanding I think the Understanding of of who can help as you say Mary in the in the mutual

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:21:55
Support. It is, I think, yesterday, with the ring with the we did a round table with the community and service provider leaders from across Cannabis and Girls Clubs, and the why and and they have been telling Us.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:22:10
Really for over a year. Now, how their Front line are Burning out but how they’re not feeling appreciated and how they’re not tend to be thanked in the way that maybe the the the uniformed you know first Responders or or in the hospitals and so we we want to know how

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:22:32
Do we build that community, and and serve as service providers into I think what Paul Mckenzie called the the the resilient community, and how do we build the in that Necessity of putting the oxygen on yourself, before you can be with anybody, else like out of the out of the public

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:22:43

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:22:49

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:22:53
Safety, Demonstration, On Aircraft. How do we make sure that people know that in their plan even with a grant application, how how do we make sure that they are made taking room and and resources for themselves in order to continue to be able to do this hugely important work, that we can’t afford them to

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:23:07
For themselves, yeah.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:23:15
Burn out and and and be away and I, and it’s so how do we how do.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:23:15
No exactly

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:23:22
We support them as they go out and again, that idea of mutual support.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:23:26
Mary, I think is is huge, but we also have to make it safe for people to admit when they’re struggling, or when they’re not feeling valued, so we we think that you know it’s been really hard on the Front line the 7,500 people lost.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:23:26

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:23:43
Their Lives, during the Opioid Overdose Crisis, across Canada, just that last year.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:23:48
But I think with the majority of those in Ontario, Alberta, BC.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:23:54
But also the the fact that really since 2,01742,000 Overdoses have been reversed and save consumption, Sites, and how Satisfying, that at Work

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:24:06
Right, just to keep that in perspective, minister, I appreciate, the bells are gonna start to ring, and you’re gonna have to leave us.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:24:11
We we are keen to continue, to have a conversation with you, about how you, in your unique role, and with your unique background, can continue to advocate, for why we need this kind of holistic all hands on deck approach to addressing mental health so that our main streets.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:24:26
And our downtowns and our housing environments can recover.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:24:30
So we look forward to working with you through the year, because we know that, as you know, there are lots of good local solutions, and you’re, a testing to a number of them

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:24:38
No, no, I think it’s great and I I I guess I just think that that if we how do we raise the mental health literacy.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:24:47
Right? Right?

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:24:47
Of whole Canadians? How do we get it into the curriculum?

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:24:51
How do? We make sure. Everybody knows what to say. What to do, and how to support one another?

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:24:56
I think is going to be hugely important as we go forward.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:24:59
That when we were apart, but not alone. How do we how do we really change the way we see this and in terms of the what we learned in Covid, around telehealth and about how you could have the best possible?

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:25:05

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:25:14

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:25:16
Treatment or supports not necessarily in your community, but in your virtual community, and I think

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:25:23
But some are but get access to them. So I mean, these are the kinds of innovations.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:25:27
We’re trying to make sure we get to stick you.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:25:29
Well enough. And I think that as urban communities understand that whether it’s students that have gone away to school, whether it’s francophone, indigenous, that there’s post off there are ways of getting that Support in and that’s.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:25:30
Know, we did some stuff. We tried some stuff.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:25:45

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:25:47
The reason We’re pushing hard now for the national licensure of health professional, so that people can help across across jurisdictions.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:25:51
So that people can move. Yeah, yeah.

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:25:55
It’s the reason. Why while this together, you know, was stood up with the Step Care model kids, help phone and Pocket well and I and I just guess that and they and I think what all of your communities would really want to look into is the real what we were able to announce a week, ago, on

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:26:14
Integrated Use Services, that the idea of having Wraparound care for each youth starting with a Peer, Support Primary Care Social Work, if they need a Psychologist Housing Education, Employment Addiction, Services that that Wrap around care is now being Part of the common statement on Priorities, of all the Problems Territories.

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:26:38
Right? Right? Right? Well, we’re We’re, we’re gonna leave you and go to a session, right now, from Victoria which is going to talk exactly about that kind of collaborative approach that they took to housing people that were vulnerable during the pandemic so minister thank

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:26:50
you for squeezing us in we look forward, to continuing our conversation with you, as the as the Year Progresses thanks for being particle with 1,000 really glad to have you on

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:26:55

[Carolyn Bennett] 13:26:58
And keep up the Great Work Excellent Bye

[Mary W Rowe, she/her, CUI/IUC] 13:26:59
Thanks thanks minister, okay, folks, we’re gonna transition.

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

Note to reader: Chat comments have been edited for ease of readability. The text has not been edited for spelling or grammar. For questions or concerns, please contact with “Chat Comments” in the subject lin

From Canadian Urban Institute: You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our webinars at

13:16:21 From Alex Tabascio (CUI) To Everyone:
The Honourable Carolyn Bennett — Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health First elected in 1997, and subsequently re-elected eight times, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, M.D. is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Toronto-St. Paul’s. She previously served as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and Minister of State for Public Health. Prior to her election, Minister Bennett was a family physician and a founding partner of Bedford Medical Associates. Minister Bennett was President of the Medical Staff Association of Women’s College Hospital and Assistant Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. She advocates for health, the environment, women’s involvement in politics, and persons with disabilities. Her service and contributions have been recognized with awards such as the EVE Award and the Champion of Mental Health Award.