“Between what was explicitly stated, and what was intended, fear and miscommunication has filled the gap.” – Rachel Notley on Bill 6
Safety is paramount. Everyone says so. And yet all hell broke loose when the NDP government tried to bring Alberta alongside the rest of Canada by introducing Bill 6 to protect the safety of paid farm workers and provide compensation in the event of injury or death.
Farmers are rallying on the steps of the Legislature and in town halls across the province waving Kill Bill 6 placards. The government is scrambling to produce amendments to address the areas that lack clarity and the Wildrose is having a field day.
What’s really at play here?
This is going to be fixed
Rachel Notley takes full responsibility for her government’s bungling of the communication process. Her government has learned an important lesson—even the best intentioned proposals will fly off the rails if they’re not introduced with the proper consultation. And while we’re on the topic of consultation, there’s a big difference between “consultation” and “information sharing”. The former is a two-way dialogue, the latter is not.
It is highly likely that the government’s amendments will address the concerns expressed by the Wildrose on behalf of the farmers* including the Bill’s failure to distinguish between family farms and commercial operations which created the fear that:
- Farmers won’t be able to call on their neighbours for help
- Farmers won’t be able to deliver calves at 2 a.m. or harvest around the clock
- Farm children will be prevented from going to 4H
- Enterprising farm children (like the little girls who own 70 chickens and sell eggs) will have to comply with OH&S regulations, and
- Rodeos and “You Pick” berry farms will become a thing of the past
“Educate, not legislate”
The Wildrose prefers to “educate not legislate”, arguing that Bill 6 is unnecessary because farmers shouldn’t be forced to implement safe practices, they will do so voluntarily.
No doubt this is true for the majority of farmers, but it’s not true across the board.
The Wildrose raised two troubling examples which illustrate this.
Wildrose MLA Mark Smith said that many farm accidents are caused by poor decision making and “that’s just the nature of life.” He illustrates his point with a graphic description of how his uncle lost his arm trying to unclog a baler (he tried to free himself by cutting off his hand but failed).
Under Bill 6, the loss of a limb won’t be dismissed as “the nature of life”. It will trigger an OH&S investigation and reinforce the importance of adhering to safe practices like shutting off machinery before poking around.
Wildrose MLA Ron Orr said farmers are an independent breed who know and “embrace” the risks of farming. He characterized Bill 6 as an effort to “bubble wrap” farm children to protect them from these risks.***
Bill 6 doesn’t apply to the family farm, so it’s difficult to see when farm children would be caught by Bill 6, however if a commercial farm uses child labour children (who lack the maturity to accept and embrace risk) will be protected.
The biggest problem with the “educate, not legislate” argument is that it doesn’t address the issue of compensation in the case of injury or death.
Some farmers argue that Workers’ Compensation is inadequate and they should be free to choose their own insurance.
This is a valid point, but it assumes all farmers have private insurance and that in all cases the insurer will pay the claim. Anyone who’s had any experience with private insurers knows that the first thing an insurance company does when a claim is made is review the policy to see if coverage can be denied.
Bill 6 requires non-family farms to carry Workers’ Compensation. It turns compensation into a safety net, not a sieve.
The farming way of life
The Wildrose is adamant that Bill 6 will destroy the farming way of life.
Wildrose MLA, Grant Hunter says Bill 6 isn’t just going after the farmer’s pocketbook, “It’s going after their heart, their passion, and their way of life” and farmers will never give up because “it’s not easy to give up on your passion because it takes a piece of your heart with it.”****
Notley’s proposed amendments should allay such fears, which are understandable given the botched rollout of Bill 6.
However it’s hard to understand the positions taken by Hunter’s colleagues, Mr Orr and Mr Strankman.
Orr says owner-operated family farms are free enterprise endeavors. He says the NDP Regina Manifesto (the founding document of the CCF written in 1933) demonstrates that Notley intends to replace the free-enterprise farm system with socialistic “economic planning.” He tells farmers that the NDP intend “to destroy you.”*****
Strankman raises a fear of unintended consequences. He says farmers keep “predator control devices” (hunting rifles?) in their closets, trucks and tractors. Who know what might happen if an OH&S inspector happens to pop in and see one?******
At the same time these Wildrose MLAs are trying to convince Alberta farmers that they’re fighting off the socialist hordes, others like Derek Fildebrandt admit the majority of the concerns relate to how Bill 6 was communicated, not its “nitty-gritty” content.*******
The Notley government’s botched consultation/communication plan created tremendous anxiety. The Wildrose seized the opportunity to score political points by inflaming Alberta farmers with misinformation and socialist fear mongering.
But Notley won’t kill Bill 6 or delay it. History has shown that approximately 170 farm workers will be injured and seven or eight will die between January and April 2016. Notley won’t trade the suffering of 170 farm workers and their families to appease the Wildrose and farmers who don’t support what Bill 6 is intended to accomplish.
She will, however, engage in fulsome consultations to ensure the regulations drafted in support of Bill 6 address everyone’s concerns.
Notley is taking a principled position that demonstrates leadership after getting off to a very shaky start.
The same can’t be said for Brian Jean and his Wildrose party.
*examples cited by the Wildrose, see Hansard Dec 2, 2015
**Hansard, Dec 2, 2015, 829
***Hansard, Dec 2, 2015, 820
****Hansard, Dec 3, 2015, 860
*****Hansard, Dec 2, 2015, 819
******Hansard, December 1, 741
*******Hansard, Dec 2, 2015, 814