A controversial bill that could cause major changes to the lifestyle of approximately 45,000 farms across the province is gaining the NDPs notoriety and not in a good way.
Despite vehement opposition, Bill 6 could go through, leaving upset and angry rural Albertans in the aftermath.
Bill 6, The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, introduces changes to the occupational health and safety act, workers’ compensation act, employment standards and labour relations codes.
Proposed amendments to the bill has made little difference to angry rural Albertans who have staged rallies in Red Deer andEdmonton demanding Notley hold off on passing Bill 6 until farmers have had a chance to have their say.
Proposed amendments to the Bill clarify that WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends. The amendment also clarifies that occupational health and safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employee at any time of year.
Oneil Carlier, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry said Bill 6 brings Alberta farm and ranch safety standards in line with other provinces.
“We appreciate the concerns farmers and ranchers have raised. To be clear, Bill 6 is not, in any way, going to affect children doing their chores, participating in 4-H, or learning the family business. it does not prevent neighbours, relatives and friends from helping each other out during busy times. it does not apply to recreational activities such as riding horses or hunting on farmland,” he said.
Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin, opposed to the Bill from the onset, has not softened his stance despite the amendments.
“It really needs to go to committee,” he said. “There is so many unknowns. And what is the motive of ramming it through so quickly?”
Speaking on behalf of Ponoka County council, McLauchlin went on to say the Bill has been developed without proper consultation with the individuals whom will be impacts the most, the family farmers.
“The family farm is the backbone of Ponoka County and I, for one, have to emphasize that every family farm in Alberta is hard working, safe and wants to keep our families and workers safe.”
McLauchlin, who was in Edmonton last week, said there was a huge rally in front of the legislature comprised of hundreds of angry farmers and ranchers.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
He said he believes Wildrose opposition to the bill may be wearing down the NDPs.
“Farmers are the most passionate about keeping their farms safe but they want to be consulted before they see their livelihoods change in a dramatic way,” Wildrose Shadow Agriculture minister Rick Strankman said. “No one cares more about safety on farms than the families who run them, they are the experts, they should be in the driver’s seat. Instead,bureaucrats and ministers, who have clearly lost the trust of farmers, continue to treat them as second-class citizens.”
In a letter to Lori Sigurdson, minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, Al Kemmere, president of the Alberta Associationof Municipal Districts & Counties asks that more time be given to the consultation process.
In order to tailor regulations to the nuances of the agriculture industry and ensure that farmers are not unfairly burdened bya one-size fits all legislation, a slower process in which all voices are heard and all opinions considered is necessary so that other unintended consequences’ can be addressed, he said. He added that the AAMDC and agriculture services board would be would be willing to work with the government to help draft regulations.