Carbon tax, Bill 6 priorities for Alberta ag minister

Ensuring support for ranchers affected by the bovine tuberculosis quarantine is also a concern for Oneil Carlier

Rural angst over provincial farm safety legislation and the carbon levy and worries about a bovine tuberculosis outbreak were the highlights, or perhaps the lowlights, of Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier’s portfolio last year.

In a year-end interview, Carlier said his government expects to prepare a final draft this spring of recommendations from the six consulting groups tasked with working out details of the En-hanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, previously known as Bill 6.

“We’re hoping to get a final draft of recommendations, if you will, by early spring,” said Carlier.

“We don’t want to drag it out too far into what would be the busiest season for most folks, calving season, seeding, that kind of thing, so we’re hoping to have it out before that season … for a final opportunity for folks, whether they’re technical working groups, Ag Coalition people or even the general public to have a look at it. That was a commitment we made early on.”

Carlier said most of the working groups have made their recommendations to government, but the two involving Occupational Health and Safety have yet to file.

The OH & S aspects are considered to be the most complex parts of the new legislation.

“I’m quite happy, quite proud and pleased with the work these people are doing: the employers, the worker representatives, the chairs, the department.”

Various members of the Ag Coalition, which is a diverse group of organizations formed to ensure farmers’ views were represented in discussions, voiced concerns that the government may not accept the recommendations put forward.

Carlier acknowledged that the consultation groups did not reach consensus on all points.

As well, the latter months of 2016 saw several rallies organized against the provincial carbon levy, which took effect Jan. 1.

Carlier said farmers and ranchers can apply for funding through government programs for use on projects to increase their energy efficiency, and those programs have been well subscribed.

“I think a lot of producers, I would say most producers, are always taking steps to improve their efficiencies,” he said.

Everyone wants to do their fair share on helping the environment, but there’s an economic benefit as well to find those efficiencies.”

Carlier said concerns that the levy will increase input costs are legitimate but noted funds collected will go back into the provincial economy. Some sectors will feel the levy’s effects more than others.

“That would include greenhouses, intensive livestock operations, irrigation perhaps,” said Carlier, so the government has designed programs to help those operators improve their energy efficiency.

On Dec. 21, Carlier visited ranchers affected by a bovine tuberculosis quarantine in southeastern Alberta.

The discovery of one cow with the disease, followed by confirmation in five other animals, led the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to undertake a major trace-out and impose quarantine on about 26,000 cattle in 45 herds.

That has prevented many ranchers from moving or selling their cattle as they would usually do in the fall, resulting in financial hardship.

Carlier said he has heard praise about government response to the crisis.

“The timing was bad, but I am happy with the quickness of the response and hearing from folks … including the Alberta Beef Producers, even though it was a gloomy time of year that they found this, it was a real bright spot in the response that did happen.”

The province put up 40 percent of the $16.7 million announced by the federal government to assist ranchers during the quarantine and trace-out process.

“My understanding from CFIA is they feel that will be enough, that the worst for sure is over,” said Carlier.

As for the extended harvest of 2016, Carlier said his own constituency of Whitecourt–Ste. Anne was among the hardest hit, along with several others in central Alberta.

He pointed to Agriculture Financial Services Corp. programs as a way of helping farmers weather the problem.

“Thank gosh that most producers are well subscribed to some of those insurance products. While nobody grows a crop just for insurance, I’m glad that AFSC continues to provide those effective insurance products.”

The counties of Brazeau and Lac Ste Anne declared states of agricultural emergency this fall, which Carlier said raised the profile of the harvest situation.

He has also discussed agricultural issues with federal Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay on several occasions and said he likes the federal commitment on research funding.

“I’m encouraged by this Liberal federal government that they are looking to reinvest into research, reinvest into their research stations … which is good news,” Carlier said.

“Agriculture in this country and in Alberta has always progressed because of the research we’ve done around new seed varieties, around new chemicals to add to further our production.”

What’s to come for agriculture and the minister in 2017? Carlier said there will be more discussions on the next national agricultural safety net program. As well, he said he plans to seek further value-added opportunities for the agricultural sector.

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