The imminent approval of Bill 6 has many farmers and ranchers throughout the region on edge and worried about the impending consequences the new legislation could cause.
Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, aims to make Occupational Health and Safety Standards and Workers Compensation applicable to all farms in the province.
“The NDP are bringing this in because they say our farmers and ranchers are unsafe. I disagree,” said Bonnyville – Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr.
“The Wildrose wants to kill Bill 6.”
Cyr addressed a crowd of approximately 75 people in Bonnyville on Dec. 4, holding an open house to hear their concerns and collect letters and petitions against the bill.
“I question what they are going to make safe,” said local farmer Gordon Graves, who operates a cattle and grain farm outside Iron River.
“This Bill is not necessary. Do we need to make sure we are safe? Yes, but we started doing that over 20 years ago through different avenues.”
The goal of Bill 6, according to NDP’s Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Jobs, Skills Training and Labour, is to bring Alberta’s safety standards on farms up to par with other operations throughout the province.
“Everyone deserves a safe, fair and healthy workplaces,” said Sigurdson. “With this bill, workplace legislation will now extend to farms and ranches,”
The issues that local residents brought to Cyr’s attention at the open house were never-ending, with many baffled at how quickly the NDP are pushing this legislation through.
Bill 6 was tabled in legislature on Nov. 26 and days later, on Dec. 1, the Bill was already receiving a second reading.
“My biggest concern is the fact that there has been no consultations,” said Sheila Runzer, who operates a family farm near Glendon.
“If the government can’t get the rollout right, how can we trust they are going to get the rest of it right? If they don’t (get it right) there are going to be farm families and farmers devastated and their farms will go under.”
The government claims to have had consultations with stakeholders across the province prior to releasing the bill, but they didn’t start hosting public open houses until well after it was tabled.
Over 1,800 angry farmers and ranchers protested the bill in front of the provincial legislature building on Dec. 3, all of which said they had not been consulted during the creation process.
Runzer was one of several locals who made the trek down to Edmonton last Thursday to oppose the bill.
“I really felt that all of Alberta’s farmers came together as one voice,” said Runzer. “We had a wide range of farming occupations there.”
Many farmers feel their industry is different and shouldn’t be susceptible to the same safety standards as the oil industry and other industries in the province.
A large number of the farming operations in the region are small family farms run by a few people. According to Graves, if Bill 6 were to pass someone on every farm would have to spend a large portion of their day filling in hazard assessments and other safety paperwork before conducting normal day-to-day activities.
“There is a monetary direct cost attributed to it, but there is also the associated costs that we won’t see, which is (our time),” said Graves.
Farms will also have to pay for workers compensation insurance for any paid workers on their farm, for most in the region that includes their children that help out from time to time.
“It is hard enough to keep these family farms rolling without putting red tape in front to prevent it,” said Cyr. “Any red tape we put on farmers is going to force future farming generations away.”
The outrage from local farmers did catch the NDP government’s attention last week and amendments to the bill are scheduled to be released this week.
“It has never been our government’s intention to interfere with what family members, friends and neighbours have always done on the family farm,” said Sigurdson, in a release on Dec. 1. “That’s why we will amend Bill 6 to make clear what was our intention all along – that farm families would be exempt from those laws, which are designed to protect paid employees.”
Cyr and the Wildrose are calling for the government to kill Bill 6 and take more time to talk to farmers and ranches throughout the province.
“Kill it. Consult with farmers and if they still feel it needs to go forward then at least they have done some work,” said Cyr. “At least send it to a standing committee and let the MLA’s talk this out, go back to their constituents and see what needs to be changed.”
Cyr’s back-up plan is to stall Bill 6 as long as possible. He has two to three hours of material on hand and plans to filibuster Bill 6 during the amendment announcement.
“That is what the opposition can do is slow this bill down,” said Cyr. “I have hours of speeches prepared to make sure that I slow this bill down.”