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McGuinty shows off his poetry chops at mental health event

Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty shares a laugh with CAMH President and CEO Dr. Catherine Zahn (centre) and Toronto Star Chairman John Honderich at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto on Friday September 23, 2011.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

First he quoted from a Japanese poet. Then he launched into a Wordsworth quote about hope, adding he hoped he "wasn't overdoing it on the poetry."

And then Dalton McGuinty's voiced cracked with emotion as he wrapped up his remarks at an event Friday on mental health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Queen Street Redevelopment Project.

What politician recites poems by 20th century Japanese poets about schizophrenia during election campaigns – and then throws in a line from a Wordsworth sonnet, to boot?

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The Liberal Leader does. He did so after first commenting on the weather, saying the skies may be overcast but he knew everyone at the event had "sunshine" in their hearts.


His handlers noted later, however, that a member of his large and extended family suffers from mental health problems. They wouldn't say who.

But it's not surprising as one in every five Ontarians suffers from some sort of mental health issue.

Mr. McGuinty focused his remarks on youth, noting that 70 per cent of mental issues begin in childhood. His party is pledging $257-million over next three years to help Ontario children and youth, he said.

The money is aimed at providing faster access to services, put mental health workers in schools, allow for video counselling for rural children and help for aboriginal kids.

"There's a guy by the name of Wordsworth, who I think had the best definition of hope of all," Mr. McGuinty told the crowd gathered outside the Queen St. W. site.

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"Hope is the paramount duty that heaven lays for its own sake on mankind's suffering heart," he said.

(He got it almost right. The correct quote is: "From hope, the paramount duty that Heaven lays, For its own honour, on man's suffering heart.") "I love that definition of hope because it speaks of it as a duty, as an obligation, as a responsibility," said Mr. McGuinty. "We cannot allow families to lead their quiet lives of desperation. They are looking to us, they are looking to you ..."

The Japanese poet, who he said he "recently discovered" and whose poem he read, was Kotaro Takamura whose wife Chieko suffered from schizophrenia.

He wrote a book of poems about her and her disease, which he called "Chieko's Sky."

It was evocative, talking about how his wife is weeping and feeling as if her life is falling apart.

"That poem was written in 1938 and the sad truth is for that for generations, mental health issues have been misunderstood, stigmatized and concealed," said Mr. McGuinty. "Families, too often, felt alone and in many cases helpless."

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Mr. McGuinty claimed all that is now changing and he used the metaphor of the walls coming down around the Queen St. W facility to back up his claim.

"For many years there was a wall around this place ... a big grey, foreboding thing," he said. "Two years ago part of it came down and I think the symbolism is powerful. Our world has changed. Today we are more open, more understanding and more determined ... (to deal with mental health issues.)"

Poetry and lovely sentiments aside, the Liberal leader announced that a third-phase expansion at CAMH has been approved, but didn't mention the dollar figure yet. The expansion will house inpatient beds for schizophrenia, a community support and research and clinical programs.

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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