Bill 6: one family farm’s perspective

To be clear, we are not anti-safety. We live and play in our workplaces. It is our family, friends, and neighbours whose health and well-being are at stake on our property, and we take that seriously.

We have repeatedly heard Alberta premier Rachel Notley claim that “stakeholders were consulted.”

The Oxford dictionary defines consultation as “meeting with an expert or professional in order to seek advice.” By this definition, stakeholders were not consulted.

In meetings between government and industry groups, industry leaders recommended exempting farms from WCB and giving them the option to voluntarily apply. They also requested further information and meetings to help create regulations specific to agriculture in an attempt to avoid potentially crippling legislation.

The recommendations were ignored on all fronts. In fact, nearly all of these stakeholders have published statements that clearly state the lack of agricultural support and lack of consultation.

Nor are current consultations led by NDP MLAs true to the definition. It was asked at one such meeting: “Who is taking notes so you can present our concerns to your party?” The MLAs looked at each other in embarrassment and shrugged. When we try contacting our MLAs with questions, we receive a “thank you for your concerns.” Calls are rarely returned.

We have also heard that this is about “making sure workers have the right to minimum wage and the right to refuse unsafe work.” However, federal legislation outlines basic responsibilities with which we must comply to protect our staff. According to the Government of Alberta Industry Profiles 2015 report, the average farm worker is paid $15.38 to $43.32 for an average of $29.35, which is well above the $11.20 minimum wage requirements.

Another misconception amplified by the NDP is that Alberta is the only province that exempts farms. However, according to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties’ Environmental Scan of Farm Safety Legislation and the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada 2015 report, farms are excluded from mandatory WCB coverage in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Regarding Occupational Health and Safety policies, farms in British Columbia with less than 20 employees are exempt and all other provinces have industry specific legislation with exemptions for small farms.

Possibly the most unfortunate and damaging misconception is the implication that farmers have become violent and threatened MLAs who supported Bill 6. At least four MLAs have made accusations that they have later mitigated, apologized for or retracted completely, but the damage has been done.

Farmers are now left with the daunting task of figuring out how this legislation will affect us, how we can make our concerns heard to a government that has proven it is not interested in listening and how and if the family farm way of life is still viable for us.

Shelley Erickson farms with her husband, Greg, near Bruce, Alta.

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