Don’t get me wrong. The conversation needs to continue. More than ever even following the isolation of the pandemic. We need it to stimulate innovation and end the stigma around mental illness. 

However, Bell’s continued involvement through its various campaigns promoting mental health awareness, along with its multiple initiatives as one of Canada’s most recognizable brands, has become counterproductive and, sadly, a punchline. 

Bell’s involvement in the mental health cause was tenuous at best for the last couple of years. Then came this month’s bombshell news that Bell planned to cut 4,800 jobs, or 9% of its workforce across Canada.

Local newscasts gone. Veteran journalists out. Already thin news resources stretched even further to ineffective levels. Shows like W5 and The Debate, cancelled. Local radio stations sold. That last part may ultimately prove to be a good thing for local communities, as Bell Media had centralized programming, the stations just sold being local in name only. 

Since the layoff announcement, Bell has been condemned by the political class across Canada and the political spectrum, all denouncing the cavalier and heartless way the company went about things. Not to mention multiple comments pertaining to the millions the company has received from hardworking Canadian taxpayers. As well, comments alluding to the added stress on the affected employees and their families across Canada, seemingly a mere afterthought for Bell. All this to say, if the brand wasn’t damaged before, it’s a badly wounded lame duck now. 

On a recent episode of the Big Blue Bent podcast, where Montreal conservatives comment on the state of politics in Canada, I opined that it was time for Bell to end its mental health advocacy and annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. This was following my realization that in years past, social media was abuzz with people sharing their stories on a chosen January day, pledging their support and engaging in a collective effort to end the stigma. And then throughout the year, Bell would hold events to distribute the funds.

This year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day, the hallmark of the company’s mental health campaign, had a different vibe. Something seemed off. Enthusiasm was missing. I noticed less social media interaction on the topic and regarding the campaign. In fact, I saw more posts from former Bell Media employees, many cut in previous rounds of layoffs, forced retirements and other restructuring decisions, denouncing how the company dealt with them and former colleagues.

And who can blame them? Others not associated with Bell also wrote about not wanting to participate this year, given Bell’s less-than-stellar employee relations record. How can anyone take those events seriously or want to be associated with this company given its past and recent actions?

 There have always been detractors. I remember a minister I worked for saying to me over a decade ago that while he wholeheartedly supported the mental health cause and the need for important conversations, he was leery of what he saw as an obvious marketing and self-promotion campaign by Bell. It was a sentiment shared by others as well. Nevertheless, despite their concerns, the cause and the need for the conversations were more important for them. 

In previous editions of Bell Let’s Talk Day, the company would release real time updates of social media interactions that qualified for its five cents a pop contribution. I tried in vain to find such updates this year. They may have been updates somewhere, but I couldn’t find them.

Which brings us back to the battle to make things better and end the stigma surrounding mental health. Bell has raised a lot of money and awareness with its campaign. That cannot be denied. As a longtime advocate for mental health, I cannot thank the company enough for this.

But time has come for Bell to step aside from its various mental health initiatives. Bell has lost what was left of its credibility to be an effective advocate for mental health. 

Bell has become an anchor preventing the cause from advancing further. I would hope that others will step up to fill the void, to keep the conversation going. To help those in need. To end the stigma. 

For the sake of the mental health battle and cause in Canada, Bell needs to exit and end its mental health involvement. Its continued involvement will only serve its own interests, ultimately hurt the cause and make its continued involvement nothing but a series of punchlines, funny or not.

Matthew Conway was a longtime Conservative staffer in Ottawa and spent two years heading up Francophone Affairs for Caroline Mulroney in Toronto. He is currently President of Conway Direction, Public Relations in Montreal.


  • Matthew Conway

    Matthew Conway was a longtime Conservative staffer in Ottawa and spent two years heading up Francophone Affairs for Caroline Mulroney in Toronto. He is currently President of Conway Direction, Public Relations in Montreal.