Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, passed a third reading last Thursday and is set to receive royal assent, much to the dismay of many across the province’s agricultural industry.
Ever since the bill was introduced in late November, farmers and ranchers have voiced their displeasure, feeling the NDP has gone about the legislation all wrong.
“I am not on the kill Bill 6 table but they need to slow the heck up,” said Gordon Graves, a Zone 7 delegate with the Alberta Beef Producers. “Do it right. Do it with due diligence and do it with consultation.”
Graves is not alone in his frustrations with how quickly the NDP has proceeded to push Bill 6 through the provincial legislature. Many other producers in the province along with a variety of politicians are upset with the accelerated agenda on Bill 6.
“It was somber, the fact is that they had decided to close debate and the only thing that you can do in a democracy is that you debate an issue fully,” said Bonnyville – Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr.
He added, “If this isn’t an issue that should’ve been more fully consulted or sent to a standing committee, I can’t see one that would’ve been.”
The bill passed a third reading exactly two weeks after it was first tabled in legislature, with the NDP stopping discussion on the second reading after roughly 20 hours of debate.
“My biggest concern is that they kind of put the cart in front of the horse,” said Reeve Ed Rondeau. “I don’t think the farmers are opposed to Bill 6 as much as they are opposed to the way it was done and they’re opposed to the fact that they weren’t consulted.”
While the government claims to have done their background work and consultations prior to releasing the bills, thousands of farmers and ranchers across the province disagree, saying they were never consulted on the bill.
Hundreds of angry and confused producers have been attending open houses across the province over the past week, all of which have been held by opposition MLA’s.
On Dec. 9 the Wildrose tabled a petition signed by over 30,000 Albertans who stand opposed to Bill 6.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. Unlike NDP MLA’s, Wildrose believes it’s our job to make sure the voices of out constituents are heard at the legislature,” said Rick Strankman, Wildrose Shadow Agriculture Minister.
Cyr echoed the sentiment of his colleague, noting he had intended on making sure local voices were heard, a step the NDP have taken away from him.
“They took the ability for our constituents to be heard away and I had a lot of concerns from local constituents that I wanted to put on the record and now I’m never going to be able to do that,” said Cyr. “This is an unfortunate direction that the NDP government has gone in and to be honest with you the New Democratic Party doesn’t seem to be very democratic.”
The petition was presented to legislature hours before Premier Rachel Notley halted discussions on Bill 6, defeating an opposition bid for an extended debate.
While discussions were stopped, the NDP did budge on the bill earlier in the week, releasing a series of amendments on Dec. 7 after a series of protests from farmers in front of the legislature.
These changes included exempting farm and ranch owners and their families from Occupational Health and Safety and mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board coverage. Family friends and neighbours who volunteer their time on farms are ranches will also be excluded.
“Families will be able to teach their children the farming and ranching way of life, as they always have, and neighbours will be able to volunteer to help each other out in times of need, as they always have,” said Oneil Carlier, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.
The bill now states that OHS and WCB rules will only apply to non-owner or non-family waged individuals involved in farm or ranch operations. However families and owners may elect WCB coverage if they wish.
“The amendments are better than nothing, but they are certainly aren’t the best thing,” said Graves, who operates a farm near Iron River.
Graves, like many in the agriculture industry, still feels the NDP needs to slow down, back up and talk to the farmers and ranchers throughout the province.
“Unfortunately the producers and the public at large don’t know is coming down the road at them,” said Graves.
“The NDP need to back off on the January 1 (implementation) and instead of imposing regulations that are not acceptable, look at, with proper consultation, putting in regulations that will appease and appeal to everybody. Not just the unions but let the real people who are going to be impacted by this.”
This was the same feeling reiterated by the many producers who gathered at the annual Alberta Beef Producers meeting in Calgary last week; a meeting, which Graves attended.
The consensus at the meeting was a resounding wish for consultations, so that all producers can understand Bill 6, get on board with the bill and know what to expect.
As it stands the NDP plan to have the Bill 6 legislation in place by Jan. 1, 2016.