A small farmer provides personal perspective on Bill 6

I know what you’re thinking…”Haven’t we heard enough from these people already?”

Dear Editor,

I know what you’re thinking…”Haven’t we heard enough from these people already?” But if you’ll give me a moment of your time I’d like to clear up some misconceptions you may have.

We (farmers) are not anti-safety. We live and play in our workplaces and it is our family, friends, and neighbors who’s health and well-being is at stake when they step foot on our property. We take that very seriously.

We were taken by surprise some two weeks ago by the announcement of Bill 6. In the form it was presented it would drastically change our lives. Since then we have repeatedly heard Premier Notley claim that “stakeholders were consulted” by her government.

Well, that could be true depending on the definition of consultation. As the Oxford dictionary states Consultation is a “meeting with an expert or professional in order to seek advice.” So by this definition stakeholders were NOT consulted. The fact is meetings did take place between government and industry commissions and associations, the general consensus was that some portions of Bill 6 were discussed and industry gave recommendations to exempt farms from WCB, giving them the option to voluntarily apply.

These industry leaders also requested further information and meetings so they could participate in creating regulations that would be specific to Agriculture, making sure not to impose any legislation that would be potentially crippling to the industry. These recommendations were ignored on all fronts, in fact nine of these “stakeholders” published an open letter on Dec. 4, to Premier Notley and all NDP MLA’s, it in part reads;

“The undersigned organizations representing the majority of Alberta’s agriculture sector would like to call upon the Government of Alberta to consider farmers and ranchers concerns and suspend the implementation of the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act (Bill 6), and conduct proper and meaningful consultations with farmers and agriculture organizations.”

“The provincial commissions have been extremely proactive in trying to represent the interests of farmers on this issue. Most of the provincial crop and livestock commissions met with government officials on a few occasions in 2015 to discuss the government’s intentions to introduce farm safety legislation, and while we pressed for more information regarding the legislation, your officials said they were unable to disclose any of the details until an announcement was made.

This is not consultation.

Nor are the consultations that are happening in the form of town hall meetings lead by NDP MLA’s. Very rarely do they answer a question directly, related to how this bill will affect the farmers. It was asked at one such meeting, “Who is taking notes so you can present our concerns to your party?” the MLA’s embarrassedly looked at each other and shrugged. No onewas even taking notes! When we try and email or call our MLAs with questions we get a cookie cutter response “thank youfor your concerns” and rarely a phone call is returned.

We have repeatedly heard that this legislation is about making sure workers have the right to minimum wage and the right to refuse safe work. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Alberta Website Currently, in Alberta, farmers do not fall under the act (Bill 6). Instead, they are protected under the Employment Standard Code for standard wage entitlement, parental leave, and termination pay and notice. As well, federal legislation outlines basic responsibilities which employers must comply with to protect their staffers.” Additionally, according to the Government of Alberta Industry Profiles 2015 report, the average farm worker is paid a minimum $15.38 up to $43.32 an average of $29.35, well above the $11.20 minimum wage requirements.

This NDP government continually claims that this is the way you do legislation, you pass a Bill then you fill it in later. However, according to The Guide to Legislative Process: Acts & Regulations prior to a Bill being introduced for first reading it goes to an Agenda & Priorities Committee to fill in the details during the drafting period, which they have omitted doing altogether.

Another misconception amplified by the NDP caucus is that Alberta is currently the only province that does not comply with this legislation, according to AAMDC Bill 6 Environmental Scan of Farm Safety Legislation and the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada 2015 report: “Farms are excluded from mandatory WCB coverage in PEI, Nova Scotia,Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan”. Regarding OHS policies, farms in BC with less than 20 employees areexempt and all other provinces have industry specific legislation with many different exemptions for small farms as well asin their Labour Relations and Employment Standards Legislation.

Finally and possibly the most unfortunate and damaging misconception in recent days is the implication that farmers have become violent and even gone so far as threatening the MLA’s who are in favor of Bill 6. Misinformed, Shaye Anderson called a peaceful family rally extremely violent and brutal. It seems he was speaking on behalf of Lori Sigurdson, and later retracted and apologized for his statement admitting he wasn’t even there. Cam Westhead claimed Rick Strankman threatened gun violence when he brought up famers concerns over how OHS legislation would affect farmers ability to carry guns on their own property for predator control. Westhead later apologized for his misunderstanding. Brian Mason in his own outburst called Wildrose MLAs and farmers goons and gangsters. He later retracted and apologized. Mcuaig-Boyd cried in legislature over being cyber-bullied and threatened with physical violence which were implied in messages and cartoons on social media, to the point she was somewhat afraid to go home to her own riding, but not enough to contact the police. McCuiag-Boyd is quoted in the Calgary Herald as saying “To be fair, a lot of the bullying comments I don’t believe were from farmers, they were just from people who trolled into the situation” on social media. But alas the damage has been done.

Now that Bill 6 has been passed and will take effect January 1, 2016, farmers are left with the daunting task of figuring out how this legislation will affect us, how we can make our concerns heard to a government who has proven they are not interested in listening, and how and if the family farm way of life is a viable one for us.

Shelley Erickson

Bruce, AB