NEWS
09/20/2017 11:19 EDT | Updated 09/21/2017 16:07 EDT

N.S. to table new cyberbullying law, but premier warns passage may have to wait

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil is signalling his government will move cautiously on promised new cyberbullying legislation as it prepares its agenda for the legislature's fall session.

The government plan is expected to be laid out with a speech from the throne on Thursday, and McNeil confirmed it includes a replacement for the previous Cyber-Safety-Act.

McNeil said the government wants to get as much public feedback as it can through law amendments committee hearings, and added the bill's passage could "potentially" be put off past the fall session.

"We've already had legislation once that was struck down by the courts and we want to make sure that this one when it comes forward, reflects what we are hearing and that Nova Scotians feel confident in it," said McNeil.

The previous law, the first of its kind in Canada, was struck down in late 2015 after the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that it infringed on Charter rights.

The law was passed by the NDP under former premier Darrell Dexter as part of the response to the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, a Halifax-area girl who was bullied and died following a suicide attempt.

McNeil's Liberal government is now under added pressure to produce something following a series of three student suicides earlier this year in Cape Breton.

The deaths lead to a report recommending a provincial policy be developed to address students' use of cellphones on school grounds. The government has pledged $192,000 to boost mental health supports at the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board and to hire two guidance counsellors and a social worker.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said although he hasn't "heard a lot of talk" around the new bill, his party would expect something substantive that would do things like empower front-line workers such as teachers and guidance counsellors to act when they see bullying.

"To me one of the most important things we can do today to protect young people is put in place strong anti-cyberbullying laws that will stick in the courts," he said. "It is very important that we get this right in this fall session of the legislature."

Baillie also said his party would be looking for "real improvements" in the health care system, including a plan for more doctors for communities that need them, and more supports for families dealing with mental illness.

He said voters made it clear during last spring's election campaign that they weren't happy with the state of the province's health care system, where doctor shortages have become a pressing issue.

McNeil said the Liberals heard the complaints on the campaign trail and intend to act when the budget that was shelved because of the May 30 election is reintroduced on Tuesday.

But he declined to be specific about the kinds of improvements the government has in mind.

"We did listen to what happened on the campaign trail and we are responding to some of that now. Obviously once this budget goes through we will be building a second budget for next spring that will continue to build on that."

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said in addition to health care spending hikes, he would like to see high child poverty rates and rapidly rising tuitions addressed.

He said the government had a surplus of nearly $150 million in fiscal 2016-17, and it's time to boost spending.

"Governments in fact have a purpose that extends beyond the accumulation of budget surpluses," Burrill said.

McNeil said the fall session would also see the introduction of legislation dealing with the incompetent persons act, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the government's cap and trade scheme under Ottawa's directive to set a price on carbon by 2018.