About 750 farmers rallied in Lethbridge today and they didn’t get what they wanted.
They wanted the Alberta government to “kill Bill 6”, according to the many placards stuck to vehicles and held aloft.
Agriculture minister Oneil Carlier and labour minister Lori Sigurdson said they would take that theme back to cabinet but reiterated the plan to pass bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, this year.
Farmers and ranchers arrived in several convoys that included combines, tractors, sprayers, grain trucks, semi-trailers and pickups to find that about 200 in the crowd had to remain outside meetings rooms at the Lethbridge Lodge due to capacity limits.
Inside, it was standing room only as Carlier and Sigurdson listened to repeated requests for delay of the legislation and questions about the speed of implementation and its effects on the farm economy.
“This government has tried to split farm groups and I have never seen an issue that has galvanized the support of growers amongst all commodity groups as this bill,” said Ed Vandenberg, a potato grower from Enchant, Alta., and chair of the Potato Growers of Alberta.
“There is a unified opposition to Bill 6 and I hope the government will step back.”
“What’s the rush,” asked many in the crowd who asked questions during the meeting. Several asked that the bill be put on hold until more consultation could take place with farmers and commodity groups.
But in interviews before the meeting, Sigurdson and Carlier indicated that would not happen.
“We still have a full year to work out the technical requirements, the legislation. That’s how it works. You pass the act and then you work out the technical requirements,” said Sigurdson.
“There is a significant amount of time for us to work with farmers and ranchers to get this right.”
A similar statement she made in front of the crowd drew boos and catcalls.
“We don’t like you. We don’t like your bill. We don’t trust you,” said one speaker at the microphone.
Carlier began his remarks to the crowd with an apology for lack of detail presented on the bill earlier, which has led to widespread concern about the government’s intentions and exact nature of what Bill 6 entails.
Those concerns, stated at several meetings and rallies around the province in the past week, led to an announcement of amendments to the bill, clarifying that mandatory Workers Compensation Coverage for farm workers, as of Jan. 1, would apply only to paid employees and that Occupational Health and Safety rules would apply to farms with one or more paid employees.
The amendments have not satisfied many producers’ concerns.
“Our whole problem is, this bill is not set up. You’re ramming something through when you haven’t discussed it with us…and so we don’t trust you,” said one of the first speakers at the meeting microphone.
“There’s nothing you can say, there’s nothing you can do that makes us believe that you care about us.”
His remarks drew loud applause.
Other speakers questioned the need for the omnibus bill, which changes legislation in four different acts. In an interview, Sigurdson said changes would be phased in, giving the government time to work out specifics.
Darren Bevans, a cattle rancher near Raymond, Alta., who manages Deseret Ranches, left the meeting unsatisfied.
“I’m extremely disappointed that we have not been heard here, at the decision of the government not to even consider delaying this bill, and I’m actually very sad for the families who work for us, for the ranch that I work on, because this is going to hurt them,” said Bevans.
Carlier and Sigurdson met after the meeting with those who couldn’t gain admittance. Among those was Grant Nelson, who farms near Stirling.
“Your legislation is going to screw us up,” he told Carlier. “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.”