Alberta United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney’s vow to repeal Bill 6 is unsavoury political opportunism. Such a promise ignores the fact that agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada, and that while fatality and injury numbers are dropping, they continue to be significant.
And Kenney would do nothing about it, decrying the idea that government dares to try to address this: from 1997 to 2014, there were an average of 18.4 fatalities per year in Canada’s agriculture sector. An average of 3.5 children die per year in agriculture. About 70 percent of fatalities involve farm machinery (runovers and rollovers, which are preventable). Others involve animal related fatalities and crushing incidents.
Education and safety promotion have not done enough.
Since the bill, called the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was enacted at the beginning of 2016, more than 1,800 workers compensation claims have been accepted.
Kenney has called the bill an “unnecessary attack on farmers.” He said, “what we hear from Alberta farmers loud and clear, not professional lobbyists but regular hardworking people in agriculture, is that this bill is a massive cost driver for them; it is unnecessary red tape.”
Really? AgCoalition, the organization that worked with the government to determine the contents of the act, has 29 member organizations covering 97 percent of Alberta’s agriculture industry. Are these the professional lobbyists of which Kenney speaks?
Albert Kamps, chair of AgCoalition, said repealing the farm safety act would be “throwing out a lot of good with the bad.”
That is the loud and clear message that Kenney wants to ignore.
While the Notley government bungled communications at first, it got its act together and launched extensive consultations with farm groups. The resulting regulations worked out reasonable compromises.
AgSafety, a farm agency with 26 member groups, will help deliver farm management tools and advice. Farmers can access these resources.
The law is largely aimed at protecting agricultural workers. The act requires every farm that employs outside workers to perform a hazard assessment.
The government will provide grants of up to $10,000 for producers who must modify equipment or provide safety training for workers.
Even then, compromise on the bill was significant. Old equipment can still be used — with provisions such as driving slowly — and that equipment can still be sold.
Children of farmers can still work on farms with no restrictions.
What is it that Kenney sees that is so bad in this?
It’s understandable that some farmers see this as an intrusion — many farmers are safe and responsible — but shrugging off fatalities and injuries in the agriculture sector is no longer acceptable.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has been chided for asserting that if the farm safety act is repealed people will die and families will receive no compensation. In fact, we know people will die whether or not it is repealed. The question is, will fewer people die or suffer injuries because of the provisions of this law. If that possibility exists, then the law is a worthy effort.
No law is perfect, but a major step was needed to enhance a culture of safety in agriculture.
Kenney’s stand fits with a party that sees government as a problem, rather than a solution. So be it. But a solution is needed to farm fatalities and injuries. And proper compensation must be accessible.
Kenney should drop his promise to repeal the act in favour of consultation with farmers after it’s been in place long enough for an objective assessment.
Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.