GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — Almost 400 angry farmers sent a clear message to the Alberta government last week: they don’t want the new farm safety legislation and they believe it is being rushed through without consultation.
“This is insulting,” said Jamie White of Teepee Creek.
“The idea that we cannot look after our business and the government has to is insulting.”
White wants the government to step back, listen to farmers and then develop legislation, rather than the reverse.
Farmers started pouring into a ballroom in Grande Prairie 45 minutes before the farm safety consultation meeting was scheduled.
“It has to be a controversial thing to get this many farmers at a meeting,” said Glen Kjemhus of Hythe.
“We don’t really know what is being proposed, and they have a tight timeline to get it in.”
Cliff Richards of Grande Prairie said he came to the meeting to find out how the new proposed farm safety legislation would affect his farm.
“I farm, and I want to know some more information. I am very concerned about potential costs. The family farm cannot afford to have their farm up to occupational health and safety standards,” he said. “It all boils down to affordability.”
Richards is also concerned about how quickly the legislation was introduced.
“This thing came so fast we don’t even know where it came from or what it’s about.”
Bill 6 proposes changes to Occupational Health and Safety, Workers Compensation, Labour Relations, Employment Standards and the Occupational Health and Safety Code.
The province’s 45,000 farms have previously been exempt from farm safety, employment standards and labour laws.
The bill would come into effect at the beginning of the year, but the technical standards and how they would be applied to farms, are yet to be designed.
White said he doesn’t understand how a bill can be introduced without input from farmers.
“How can they make an informed decision with no information?”
Officials from Workers Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety stood at the front of the packed ballroom and tried to answer questions about how the legislation would impact farmers.
However, without technical rules, which are yet to be written, their vague answers gave farmers and ranchers little confidence.
Andrea Conrad of La Glace came to the meeting to see if she would be breaking the law by allowing her children to help with chores. After three hours she didn’t have a clear answer.
“Why set up a meeting when there is no answers. I am leaving this meeting with more uncertainty than I came with,” she said.
Ross Nairne, executive director with Occupational Health and Safety, said the answers will be unclear until technical rules are developed and implemented in 2017.
“We’ll work with farmers, industry, labour to develop those technical rules for Occupational Health and Safety over the next 12 months.”
Marielle Guynup wanted to see elected officials at the meeting rather than government bureaucrats.
“It was very cowardly of the government not to come when this is something they say they care about our input. They darn well should have been here.”
Guynup said the legislation doesn’t take into account the melding together of work and recreation on the farm. The worksheets that were handed out at the meeting clearly divide recreational activities from livestock, but for Guynup’s family, they are the same.
“My kids do recreational activity with what you define as livestock,” she said.
“You cannot divide the recreational activities from our farming operations when we live on a farm and have 4-H and rodeo and it is a farming way of life.”
White hoped the officials taking notes at the meeting will take note of the anger, fear and frustration in the room and that labour minister Lori Sigurdson will put the proposed legislation on hold.
“There is a glimmer of hope she will do the right thing and put it on pause.”
Katie McLachlan of Fairview attended the meeting with her brother and mother, looking for answers for their family farm. Instead, she saw families concerned about running their business and possibly breaking the law by involving their families.
Officials assured farmers their message would be passed on to government.
“You can’t transcribe emotion,” said McLachlan. “I thought a riot would break out.”