RED DEER — Agriculture groups can wait for weeks or months for an appointment with a government minister.
Nine Olds College students had Alberta agriculture minister Oneil Carlier’s ear for an hour during a bear pit session at the Alberta Federation of Agriculture meeting.
The group talked about social license, becoming an agriculture promoter, shelter belt trees and cattle checkoffs, but it was Bill 6, the controversial farm safety bill, that dominated the discussion.
The students questioned the minister about the need for safety legislation, the exemption of Hutterite colonies from the legislation and if it would affect 4-H and allow hired hands to reject work.
Sampson Moss of Okotoks, Alta., wanted the minister’s assurance that farm workers wouldn’t be able to unionize in Alberta.
“Will there be any protection against unionized farm workers in Alberta, if they don’t want to do a job and we can’t say, ‘get off?’ ” Moss said during the discussion.
“We can’t be told we can’t say that.”
Bill 6 removes the exemptions from farm workers to form a union, but the likelihood that farm workers will form a union is limited, said Carlier.
“The right to belong to a union is a basic human right. Logically, realistically, are they going to?” he said.
The legislation also removes previous exemptions for farms for labour, occupational health and safety and mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board coverage.
Farmers with paid, non-family farm workers must now carry WCB coverage.
A series of roundtable discussions will work out labour, employment and occupational health and safety regulations over the next year.
Carlier has been making the rounds of farm meetings apologizing for the way the bill was introduced.
Thousands of farmers protested the bill before Christmas. It originally applied to all farms but has since been changed to apply to farms with wage earning, non-family workers.
“If you work on your farm and you get a wage, it doesn’t affect you at all,” he told the students.
“It doesn’t affect 4-H any iota at all. It doesn’t affect anyone to bale or fix a fence.”
Marc Damon, an agribusiness student from Ontario, said he thought the meeting was fruitful.
“I think it was a really good sit down and he answered a lot of questions. It helps to educate the young farmers, and the young farmers are the future of agriculture, so it is super important. It helped me a lot. There were some questions I didn’t quite get the answer I wanted, but it gave a better perspective.”
Braden Douglass of Gem, Alta., said the discussion was useful for the students and the minister.
“I thought it was really good. It would have been nice to have it a bit longer,” said Douglass, adding that he didn’t think the government did enough research.
“He couldn’t answer our questions fully in depth, but it is good to see where he is coming from with Bill 6. I am not totally against Bill 6. I am not one of those people. I think it is a good thing,” said Douglass.
“I think he will take a lot away from it, too. He will take away our perspective.”