“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
Large corporate farming and ranching operations with hired help should be paying for WCB for those hired hands just as any other business which has employees.
Individual family farms which never use hired help would be smart to support the legislation as it would help them compete against the large corporate operations.
It is fairly obvious that the Wildrose is stoking the fires of protest against Bill 6 for political gain. And would anyone be surprised that large corporate farms and ranches, which all use hired help, and would be likely to be strong supporters of the Wildrose, are involved in stoking the protests?
Great point ABCanuck. The Wildrose pulled out all stops on this one with anecdotal stories about a commercial farmer who provides private insurance to his employees because he thinks it’s better than Workers’ Compensation. While this is interesting it’s hardly the norm. There isn’t one industry in Alberta that doesn’t provide Workers’ Comp to its employees. Most refuse to hire contractors or consultants if they don’t have a WCB number. It’s that important. The fact that it’s a strict liability regime (if you’re injured on the job you get compensation) and it insulates the employer from liability is also a big plus.
I have no doubts that large corporate farms are behind Brian’s noise. He does not mind it. The circus continues and will not end until one day the system is replaced. Politicians do not believe it is possible but they are wrong.
Hi Susan, you are right, if there was honesty as to what the bill actually contains, on the part of the Wildrose and their supporters, there wouldn’t even be an issue now. The government made a mistake on roll out– and considering the NDP government have still not even completed year one of their government, mistakes will happen. However if anyone actually read the bill, they would find it pretty benign as near as I can see. One things farmers don’t seem to understand that there are non farm, family businesses that pay WCB premiums and they still survive. I have talked to quite a few now who think farmers should have to follow the same rules as they do with their employees.
Strankman want to talk about unintended consequences, then with all the meanness, the hot headed remarks, all the unwillingness to compromise, it just make all farmers and rural Albertans look like a bunch of jerks (and the majority are not). We too have a social license that urban Albertans have a great deal of control over by where the majority of Albertans live. If and when urban Albertans have enough of all the silliness we will lose that social license forever. Then we will be more exposed to regulations that will make Bill 6 look like “small potatoes”. Rachel Notley has clarified the Bill, the reasoning for the bill and extended an olive branch, as well I gather a line in the sand that she won’t cross. I think many people will see this as a reasonable attempt to fix the mistake and still provide regulations that hopefully will save lives. However we might be getting down to the real issue…
1. This is just partisan politics at its very worst and Bill 6 is just a convenient vehicle of choice to use.
2. Wildrose supporters –as much as they protest they aren’t, dislike anyone who doesn’t believe the same things they do.
3. The Wildrose is only capable of cooperating or “working together” with other parties only as long as the other parties are only willing to do everything the Wildrose wants, demands or believes in.
4. The Wildrose have been itching for a fight because they feel they won against Alison Redford so they think they can do the same to Rachel Notley. The problem is Rachel Notley isn’t Alison Redford, but they don’t realize this yet.
The Wildrose are irresponsible in the untruths they spout about Bill 6 and they obviously are extremists when they can suggest that maybe OHS inspectors might get shot if they come onto farms. Apparently Strankmans first brush with the laws of the land wasn’t enough.
They will reap the seeds they sow, but unfortunately so will all rural Alberta. Again please forgive the rant.
Einar, I’m watching Question Period even as I type. The WR says Bill 6 is a risky socialist experiment, part of Notley’s hidden socialist agenda and anything else they can put into a sentence that contains the word “socialist”. A very clear example of the WR’s divisive and nasty attack campaign.
You make an excellent point about the social license that rural Albertans hold. The Calgary Herald ran an excellent letter this morning from a farmer who says he’s concerned about “the damage to the reputation and political capital of the farming community” by continuing to oppose Bill 6. He pleads for constructive input, identification of unintended impacts, and participating in the development of the regulations and says anyone not supportive of Bill 6 comes across as a “greedy, mercenary monster”. Here’s the link: http://calgaryherald.com/opinion/letters/letters-for-monday-dec-7
With respect to Strankman, he made a point of mentioning the fact that his wrists were chaffed when he was handcuffed over his last act of civil disobedience—for shipping grain to the US in violation of the Customs Act. You’ll recall Harper pardoned Strankman and lauded his as a hero.
I bet you there are many, many others like Mr. Olson out there who would rather try to find common ground instead of “just scream no”, and recognize the risks of supporting irresponsibility. Unfortunately it is only the screamers who get the notice. The only problem is we who oppose what the WR are doing are being seen as being traitors. I’ve spent a lot of time lately on the phone trying to reason with those opposed to Bill 6 and just even get them to read it themselves to no avail. They believe what they want and refuse to even contemplate other views.
Strankman can boast about his previous acts, but should someone actually take his advice and shoot an inspector, he might find his career as an MLA ending very quickly. We may not always like the laws of our country, but they are written by the legally elected governments and if we don’t respect them we have anarchy. The Conservatives and Wildrose are suppose to be the parties of law and order, apparently just the laws they like and the order that promotes their ideology. Thank you Susan for the link I will pass it on, maybe it will inspire those quietly shaking their heads to speak up in opposition to the Wildrose.
Einar, I have a friend who has attended one of these sessions. He says the people are furious about the process and don’t understand that government has to pass the legislation BEFORE it can draft the regulations. The government had no authority to draft a bunch of regulations without having a statute to pin them on. These people reject the principles of statutory drafting and Brian Jean, the lawyer, isn’t about to point out that what they’re demanding is impossible under the law. Instead he’s convinced them that the government wants them to give it a “blank cheque” but they can’t trust this socialist government to deliver what it has promised. The WR will go to any lengths to serve its political agenda, including blocking a safety bill that is commonplace across the rest of Canada. It’s shocking.
Our farmers need all the support they can get because farming is not only one of the hardest jobs out there, it’s a serious high financial risk as well. Farming unfortunately is a less and less desirable way of life and making a living for many. I can see a world in which we will one day have to all pay farmers just to choose that industry for their career because food is expensive but not expensive enough for all the hard work and risk that farmers take.
I want to see them protected and prosperous.
Jojo I agree with your point that farming is a difficult lifestyle and would like to see anyone engaged in it protected to the same extent as workers in the oil patch, construction, white collar jobs, etc. I worked in the pipeline industry for decades. I was pleased to see the mindset turn from “accidents are inevitable” to “zero is real” (meaning we strive for no accidents, zero). It’s important to note that farmers in BC, Sask and Man comply with their own versions of Bill 6 and are still in business.
I am not at all surprised with Brian Jean’s attitude. One has to remember that he does not believe in government and see no use for it at all. He loves the ‘socialist’ card and ‘No new taxes’. The problem is, if Rachel Notley does not do extremely well he will destroy the government with lies and innuendos. He was not able to discuss anything in the debates and he does not have any constructive ideas. This is a common attitude with the Tories of today. They added 150 billion dollars to our debt. Did not really have a surplus in 9 years but now are extremely concerned with Justin Trudeau’s deficit plans. I guess there is something especial about Tories deficits. They smell better I guess.
Carlos it was funny that you mentioned Brian Jean’s “no new taxes” contribution (if one can call it that) in the debates. The WR started by attacking the process (no consultation), then when it saw how angry the farmers were blew the whole thing up into an attack on “Notley’s secret socialist agenda” which refers to the increased personal tax, the carbon tax, and, for good measure, an attempt to kill Big Oil with the royalty review and climate change plan. In the legislature the WR give examples of people like the lady who owns a greenhouse who says she’ll go out of business because the requirement to buy Workers’ Comp to protect her employees is the last straw on top of of Notley’s socialist agenda which is nothing but taxes, taxes, taxes. Jean also said that family farms are sophisticated enterprises which minimize their taxes by putting their family members on the payroll and giving them T4s slips. This one is interesting because it might explain why the farmers who run family farms are up in arms. If you went strictly on the “paid” employee criterion they’d be caught by Bill 6.
Susan I am appalled with the lack of responsibility from our so called political class. A lot behave like thugs and spoiled brats. We even have our own MLAs suggesting threats against government inspectors. Great that is what we really need. I am sorry to say Susan but Brian Jean behaves like an idiot. He has the right to his ideology just like all of us but one thing is to criticize the NDP, another is to sabotage anything that is not what he wants. Like I said in my previous posts, I expected this kind of attitude from them but we are adults and we have a province to govern and the lives of millions of people depend on the best that we can do. We are already facing enormous challenges from all sides and this is criminal to me. Opposition is now synonym to enemy. There is no discussion about what is or is not wrong with Bill 6. People just want to destroy anything and everything so that they can get to power regardless of consequences. If Brian Jean and other think that this kind of attitude does not have serious consequences they are in for a big surprise. This is an extremely sad situation.
I agree Carlos. I saw the movie Trumbo this weekend. It showed how the House Un-American Activities Committee trashed the Constitution and destroyed the lives of anyone it got in its cross-hairs. The part that struck me was how easy it is for a government (or in this case an opposition party) to whip up a segment of the population and use their fear and anger to its own purpose. I’m not saying that the farmers are at fault here, I’m simply saying that the divisive fear mongering tactics used by the Wildrose remind me of the tactics used by the US House of Representatives so many years ago. As you point out we need to move beyond such tactics if we’re to deal with the enormous challenges facing us.
Does this greenhouse operator not know that she is ALREADY in contravention of the OH&S guidelines as greenhouses are explicitly INCLUDED as included operations? Along with sod farms, mushroom farms, and nurseries.
Here is a link to the exemption as it currently stands and it very clearly states that greenhouses are included. Funny that WR uses that as an example. http://www.qp.alberta.ca/1266.cfm?page=1995_027.cfm&leg_type=Regs&isbncln=0779706161&display=html
Thank you for this excellent comment Irene! You’re right, section 3(b) of Reg 27/95 to the OH&S Act says greenhouses are not exempt from the OH&S Act. So what that tells me is that the WR are big on rhetoric and don’t care whether its well founded or not. Wouldn’t it be ironic if the WR just “outted” one of its own supporters by spewing this nonsense.
The kids I grew up with worked many hours, every day, doing ‘chores’ on their farms Watching their experience quickly dispelled any romantic notions I might have had about the idyllic way of life on a family farm. It looked like exploitation of child labour to me.
Anonymous, when I was young the man who farmed next to our orchard/produce farm “hired” my sister and me to help him harvest the onions–huge, round, smelly cooking onions. We got up early to get as much done as possible in the cooler hours of the morning. By 4 p.m. we were knackered and dragged our tired filthy little bodies home. We thought it was great to earn a little cash over the summer, but looking back on it, I wonder about the morals of a farmer who’d hire a 10 year old and a 12 year old to help with the harvest.
Thank you for the clip. As always it was the perfect choice.
There are no perfect choices Susan. There are just choices.
Excellent and balanced review.
If it wasn’t obvious that WR milked the failure of good process (and never spoke about constitutional and human rights – which they say they champion!) Brian Jean’s support of barring my speaking at a farm owner rally at the Legislature secured my view of his true agenda – take power. He is also planning to propose Bill 206 – Recall; which will trigger the possible removal of an MLA (i.e. NDP) if 20% of eligible constituents call for an election…
Given the seriousness of these issues (child labor standards, compensation for injury and death and safety standards allowing for investigation by OHS) which are well established in the rest of Canada, this is profoundly disturbing.
Ironically, many thoughtful farm and ranch owners are ready to move on with clarity around the family farm exemptions…
I believe most Albertans are ready to enter the 21st century and do the same.
Dr. David Swann. You are spot on with your comments. The facts remain clear. Little children should not be allowed to operate heavy equipment, machinery or motor vehicles. There was a 10 year old boy who died on his family’s farm after the forklift he was operating overturned and landed on him. Children cannot operate heavy equipment, machinery or use motor vehicles in any other line of employment. The Alberta farmers and ranchers never said anything after Ralph Klein gave $400 million in BSE aid to American owned meatpacking plants, instead of helping them. The farmers and ranchers also never said anything when Ralph Klein shoved electricity deregulation down Albertan’s throats, causing power prices to skyrocket. This fiasco is now costing us over $30 BILLION. The Alberta PC’s have done many more very costly scandals and were allowed to get away with them for so long. Stephen Harper and the Federal Conservatives sold the Canadian Wheat Board to the Saudis. Rural Alberta still voted for the Conservatives in the last federal election. This makes no sense that farmers and ranchers vote for and support political parties who betray them and offer no solutions to help them. The Wildrose has no proper plans to deal with real issues. Instead, they babble nonsense, which they think makes them look good. They are ex PC’s, who were involved with corruption, and others in their party are just blabbermouth nobodies. Then, when a political party tries to bring in legislation to help people, there are protests and complaints.
Dwayne, you’ve set out an impressive list of PC actions that hurt the farming community. The WR is advocating a position that is just as harmful on a very personal level. And yet, farmers flock to support the WR. Seems to me that the WR are even more adept than the PCs at pushing the right buttons to trigger an emotional reaction which wipes out everyone’s ability to have a rational discussion. All we have to do is look at BC, Sask and Manitoba which have their own versions of this law to realize that Bill 6 will NOT kill the farming way of life.
David, it is so encouraging to hear you say that many thoughtful farmers and ranchers are prepared to move on with clarity of the exemptions. I read your speech in the Legislature where you described your experience as a 17 year old driving a tractor on a farm and in typical youthful bravado kept trying to see how far up an incline you could drive the tractor without tipping over. You said you finally realized how dangerous this was and stopped. Sadly many young people don’t have the maturity necessary to assess a dangerous activity. That’s why Bill 6 is so important.
As you correctly point out, the Wildrose has shown its true nature–divisive fear mongers with no respect for the constitution or human rights. Something I hope all Albertans remember when we next go to the polls.
What about the hidden agenda to strip land owners of their rights to stop government from putting solar and wind farms on their land?
Richard, more conspiracy theories. Break out the tin foil hats, cause the crazy is rampant in too many of the theories that are being put forward.
Oh please Richard, next you’ll be telling us there is a hidden agenda to strip land owners of their rights to stop oil companies from putting well heads on their lands….’sif.
I’m going to repeat it again, because this point can’t be repeated often enough …
Unless and until the Notley Gov’t fires 30% of the public service these kind of fiascos will continue until her gov’t goes down in flames.
The vast, vast majority of public service employees at the gov’t, the agencies and the boards are no friend of the NDP. They will drag their feet and obstruct any progressive policy. Now, with MLA’s trumpeting gunfire and insurrection, they will be greatly encouraged.
To be sure, this is not all on them; an inexperienced gov’t caucus badly handled this file. But they got precious little help or advice from the experienced staff in the Ministries, or Departments as they like to call them in these here parts.
44 years is at least 2 generations; father to son. The Alberta public service, management and rank and file, are thoroughly vetted hard-core conservatives of the peculiar Albertan strain. They will drag their feet and stonewall any progressive policy they disagree with, and they disagree with everything that doesn’t benefit them personally.
Turfing a third of the useless buggers will be difficult and expensive. But it’s the only way a new gov’t can survive.
Political ranger, you raise a very important point. One has to wonder how the communication/consultation plan went so badly off the rails. Whether it was incompetence or a more nefarious desire to see Bill 6 blow up in the government’s face, the government needs to take a hard look at what happened and why. I’ve worked in the private sector for decades. I can tell you heads would roll if a major initiative went sideways as badly as this one did.
I’m not sure wholesale firings are necessary, or justified, but I do agree to an extent.
When the NDP put an end to the 44-yr reign of the PC Party, I for one predicted that, contrary to the usual Westminster-parliamentary tradition, there would be a purge of the top levels of the provincial public service; that Deputy Ministers, and most Assistant Deputy Ministers, would be fired immediately, in a manner reminiscent of the transition practices at the advent of a new administration in Washington DC. I felt the PC-appointed bureaucracy simply couldn’t be trusted to be non-partisan.
However, somewhat surprisingly, the incoming government seems to value experience in government over policy neutrality, and while there were a couple of minor lateral shuffles at the Deputy Minister level, the NDP has essentially kept on the entire PC management structure. I fear this gong show is a result.
I may have been a little hasty calling for heads to roll. I didn’t mean it was time for mass firings, but this kind of incompetence cannot be allowed to repeat itself. Notley, to her credit, accepts full responsibility for the misfire, but it created a huge opportunity for the WR to rush into the fray with all sorts of divisive tactics. I fear this will cost the NDs some if not all of the 11 seats they had in the rural ridings.
BTW, I have heard that Preston Manning also supports a carbon tax. Preston Manning was the man responsible for the Wildrose
Party members crossing the floor to the Alberta PC’s
We are not removing this government. Why? Because the previous government that was ruling Alberta was way too corrupt and scandal plagued. Fact is, we are still seeing the Alberta PC’s very costly scandals show up in the news. Peter Lougheed would be disgusted at what the Alberta PC’s who reigned after him have done. He already was. The Wildrose is also an incapable bunch. Who comprises their party, combined with their antics speaks volumes about them. Brian Jean stated that he supported farm worker safety legislation for Alberta, before the last provincial election. Now he doesn’t. Which is it? Some very disturbed nut cases are threatening Rachel Notley and her MLA’s. This is bad. It is also illegal. Cyberbullying and death threats. Brian Jean has to take responsibility for this. He has stated it is wrong. He is desperate and is trying to redeem himself. It won’t work in the long term. Bye bye, Alberta PC’s and bye bye Wildrose.
Dwayne, you raised an important point when you referred to the threats that have been made against Notley and her MLAs. I was shocked to learn that notwithstanding Brian Jean’s comments that these threats must stop, they remained on his facebook page for some time (I believe they’ve been taken down now). One would think if he was sincere he would have directed his staff to remove those comments immediately. Tells you a lot about the integrity of the WR doesn’t it. And you’re right, the PCs are not much better, they just look better in comparison to the WR.
The Wildrose is certainly feeding the paranoia among the rural communities. I think, too, there is old-fashioned “libertarianism” at work here,…” it’s my land and I can do what I want on it”, of which the flip side is distrust of government. Farmers also have pride in their independence, I think, and their self-sufficiency. Unfortunately there is a refusal by some to consider protections for people who work on farms. Too bad children are being left out of the legislation, which is tragic given the number of them killed in the last few months. Farming is dangerous. My family has farmed in Alberta for four generations- both my parents lost siblings in farm accidents, a cousin of mine was run over and killed by a combine her father was operating, and another one lost a finger in a grain auger when he was three years old. Investigations of accidents by safety experts can expose problems and provide important data that can be used to prevent tragedy in the future.
Elaine, I saw a number of comments reflecting the “libertarianism” you refer to. One woman said the government had no right telling her how to raise her children, apparently forgetting that the government sets standards for her childrens’ education, health (vaccinations), and even transportation in the family car (seat belts), just to name a few.
Your personal experience demonstrates again how all of us, even we city folk, have been touched by farm injuries and death. My grandfather had a tobacco farm. One of his employees was killed when a tractor rolled over and crushed him. It took him hours to die. How can people argue against taking steps to prevent such suffering. And the argument that education, not legislation doesn’t cut it. Farmers have relied on education for decades and still 170 people will be injured or die over the next four months.
Is it just me, or do most of the folks in that protest photo look like they feel a little bit silly right about now?
GoinFawr: I certainly hope so!
Hola Susan: just wanted to say how much I value/appreciate your thoughtful insights in to our body politics both in Alberta as well as nationally. One can actually learn new perspectives and factual info. by reading your Blog – muchisimas gracias & have a safe/enjoyable weekend 🙂 LCA
Thank you LCA! Politics is fascinating isn’t it? All those people with all that power and the challenge of balancing what needs to be done with what can be done while at the same time trying to keep all those stakeholders happy. Wow, what a life!