The NDP government recently introduced Bill 6, dealing with safety and labour issues on farms. The bill has in a very short period of time attracted considerable attention from concerned farmers and ranchers.
My offices in Strathmore, Brooks and Edmonton have been flooded by hundreds of calls and emails from farmers and ranchers who have not been consulted about the bill. My Facebook page has had dozens and dozens of posts on it from people in Wheatland County and Newell County trying to make their voices heard, but who are being ignored by the government as they try to ram Bill 6 through the legislature without consulting them first.
On the surface, Bill 6 tries to update our farm safety regulations – something that is welcome, especially for larger operations – but does so in a way entirely ignorant of agriculture, rural traditions and the reality of the family farm. It amends or repeals no less than seven codes, acts, and regulations, and represents a basic change to how farmers are allowed to do business.
Nobody objects to farm safety – least of all the men and women who run them – but Bill 6 has consequences that go well beyond safety.
The bill removes the distinction between family farms and other businesses. It treats a small family farm the same as a large corporate-owned farm, or even a factory assembly line. This means that farmers must follow government guidelines before they allow their children to do any work on the farms or in their homes. It also means that government OHS inspectors will be able to enter farmyards and homes without notice, and search and seize property without a warrant.
The bill also deals with labour issues, allowing for the unionization of farms without the owner’s consent, as if a farm were a large factory. The agriculture minister’s background as a paid union organizer raises serious questions about the real intent of Bill 6.
The addition of mandatory WCB coverage is effectively a 2-3% tax on most payrolls. These changes come on top of a new, $3 billion carbon tax, which is sure to have a negative effect on farmers who will pay more, especially to get products to market.
The worst part however, is that these changes are being rammed through the legislature without consulting farmers first. A token show is being made of public consultations after Bill 6 was written and tabled in the legislature.
These ‘town halls’ are more ‘town-tells,’ where bureaucrats have been sent to explain the legislation to farmers and ranchers, but not to solicit real feedback from them about what the legislation should actually look like. Further, only a handful of these ‘town halls’ are being held across the entire province, with seating limited far below the demand to attend them.
Here in Strathmore-Brooks, my phones have been ringing off the wall from farmers and ranchers who just want to be listened to and consulted, but the NDP has refused to hold a single session in our constituency despite being one of the most agriculture-intensive constituencies in Canada.
As such, I’ve booked the Bassano Elk’s Lodge for Saturday, December 5th at 2:00 pm for an emergency Bill 6 town hall meeting. I encourage all farmers, ranchers and other constituents affected by Bill 6 to come out and tell me what you want me to advocate for in Edmonton. This is your chance to gather together and tell me what parts of Bill 6 are reasonable and acceptable, and what parts need to be improved.
The Wildrose Opposition represents most of rural Alberta, and a large number of our caucus members are farmers and ranchers. We get rural Alberta. That’s why we haven’t done the easy thing and rubber-stamped this bill despite its near universal endorsement from provincial media outlets and labour union groups when it was introduced.
You sent me to the legislature to represent you to Edmonton, and not Edmonton to you. To do that effectively, please join me on December 5th in Bassano and tell me what message I should carry back with me.