Alberta’s NDP government has bungled Bill 6.
The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has galvanized agriculture into unprecedented opposition, and with good reason.
Almost every Alberta farm and commodity group has publicly criticized the government’s lack of consultation on the bill. Most have also asked the government to halt readings and assent of Bill 6 until its details can be discussed.
Even so, premier Rachel Notley has said the bill will pass this year, possibly even by the time this editorial is published.
She has blamed bureaucrats for initially failing to provide the answers farmers sought and then sent her ministers, Lori Sigurdson and Oneil Carlier, to meetings where they continue to face a barrage of questions they are unable or unwilling to answer.
What is the rush, farmers ask. What would be the harm in delaying legislation until the agricultural community understands its ramifications and can prepare for its implementation?
The odd thing about the situation is that everyone in the agricultural sector agrees with the government that farm worker safety can and should be improved.
There could have been widespread support from farmers and ranchers for legislation that meets that goal while recognizing the unique needs of the
Instead, the government completely misread farmer opinion and solidified the general feeling that the NDP, with a largely urban electoral base, does not understand rural Alberta.
The Alberta agriculture and rural sector is worth $77.4 billion, according to 2013 Conference Board of Canada data. It is a sector worthy of attention. It is a sector that would be worthwhile to consult.
Yet the government has asked the agricultural community for a blank cheque, with details to come later. Amid early and widespread outcry, it announced amendments to a bill whose chapter and verse are not fully known.
The amendments clarified the exclusion of farm owners and their families from mandatory OHS and WCB rules. Though welcome, the amendments indicated Bill 6 was fundamentally flawed at the start and that has destroyed any remaining confidence in the legislation’s merits.
It is true that farm worker legislation works in other provinces. It is true that Alberta should develop its own rules to protect its second largest economic sector. It is also true that other provinces have implemented certain exceptions to reflect the nature of farming and have provided options regarding insurance coverage. Such is not the case with Bill 6, so far as is known.
Now, amid protest that has been orderly but has unfortunately begun to generate insults and hyperbole, the NDP may feel it cannot back down.
Here is some advice for the Alberta government: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Stop the legislative procedure on Bill 6, undertake consultation and build some agreement on effective ways to improve farm safety and farm worker protection.
Bruce Dyck, Terry Fries, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and D’Arce McMillan collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.