Former Tory labour minister and deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk enters the farm safety fray with ‘Bill 6 Taskforce’

Posted on December 20, 2015, 12:32 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Thomas Lukaszuk in the summer of 2014 when he was running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Below: A group of farmers and their supporters unhappy with Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, protest the legislation at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton a few days before the bill was passed on Dec. 10, receiving Royal Assent the next day; Edmonton lawyer Dwayne Chomyn.

Former Alberta Progressive Conservative deputy premier and labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, two lawyers and three accountants have formed a “Bill 6 Implementation Advisory Taskforce” that Mr. Lukaszuk says in a letter to farmers and operators of other agricultural enterprises can help ensure the NDP Government’s controversial Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act is implemented in a way that minimizes “the damage inflicted by Bill 6.”

In an electronic letter to about 50 officials of Alberta agricultural operations and producers’ associations, a copy of which has been obtained by AlbertaPolitics.ca, Mr. Lukaszuk described the intentions of the group made up of himself, lawyer John M. Hope of the firm Duncan Craig LLP, lawyer Dwayne Chomyn of the firm Neuman Thompson, and Chartered Accountants Scott Dickson, Gord Tait and Michelle O’Brien-Moran, all of MNP LLP, a national accounting firm based in Calgary.

PO'dFarmers The Dec. 15 email from Mr. Lukaszuk to the agricultural groups is sure to ruffle feathers among representatives of the NDP government, the official Opposition and organized labour.

The government of Premier Rachel Notley is already concerned because it wishes to discourage activities that could be interpreted as an effort by consultants or lobbyists to deal with the government on behalf of individuals or organizations. The NDP prefers to deal directly with such individuals and organizations itself.

The Wildrose Party is likely to be unhappy to see a former high-profile PC MLA and cabinet member who lost his seat in the May 5 election getting involved in an issue the Opposition party has been using to attack the government and portray it as not acting in the interests of the farm community.

Organized labour will also be displeased with involvement in this issue by a former minister who labour leaders view as unsympathetic to unions, as well as a lawyer, Mr. Chomyn, who worked closely with Mr. Lukaszuk on proposed changes to labour law that were strenuously and ultimately successfully opposed by unions.

The letter suggests Mr. Lukaszuk’s “task group” intends to urge the government to perpetuate working practices labour leaders have pressed the NDP and previous governments to end. Some of the proposals noted in the letter are certain to be strongly opposed by unions.

ChomynThe letter describes Messrs. Lukaszuk, Hope, Chomyn, Dickson, Tait and Ms. O’Brien as “a task group of well qualified and experienced professionals with agricultural backgrounds coalesced in order to analyze the impact of Bill 6 on individual producers and all sectors of the industry, assess the Bill’s financial and operational implications, develop a strategy to assist the Government in drafting practical Regulations and develop a communications strategy particularly aimed at urban Alberta.”

“It is vital that we provide guidance to government on how to minimize the negative impact of such rush enforcement (sic),” the letter also states, continuing: “We also hope to serve as a resource to the industry and individual producers relevant to developing strategies on how to deal with the impact of the new laws.”

“More so than ever before,” Mr. Lukaszuk’s letter warns its recipients, “Alberta’s agricultural producers now need a unified position and must speak whenever possible with ‘one voice’.”

The letter states that Mr. Lukaszuk’s group “has met with the Offices of the Ministers of Agriculture and Jobs Skills Training & Labour (JSTL) and with the Deputy Minister of JSTL,” although officials did not expect Mr. Lukaszuk and his colleagues to be at the meeting when they sat down with producer group representatives to discuss Bill 6 a couple of days before it was passed by the Legislature on Dec. 10.

Moreover, civil servants involved in that meeting are certain to have taken issue with the letter’s claim “the task group has developed a working relationship with the Deputy Minister and is now in the process of determining a mechanism for collaborative drafting of Regulations.”

In response to my query about this statement, Mr. Lukaszuk told me yesterday in a Twitter message that “we met with DM and MNP will provide the department with suggestions for Regulations.”

Mr. Lukaszuk also said he has not registered with the province’s Lobbyist Registry because he does not expect to perform the specified threshold of 100 hours of lobbying per year as set out in the Lobbyists Act. “I’m not planning on engaging in lobbying.”

The letter lists seven issues it says the “task group” will address:

  1. Developing regulations that distinguish between arms-length and non-arms-length employment. While family farms are unlikely to be impacted by Bill 6, the letter notes, “it is unfortunate that this will not provide any relief whatsoever to the operations that employ independent arms-length employees.”
  2. Ensuring Workers Compensation Board policies are developed “in direct collaboration with the agricultural industry.”
  3. Reviewing the Employment Standards Code to determine regulations “appropriate and reasonable for the agriculture industry.” Normal overtime pay, the email says, “just isn’t practical in the industry.”
  4. Implementation of a farm safety standard that “does not become a huge cost and administrative burden to Alberta farms and ranches.”
  5. Imposing an “essential services” ban on strikes in agriculture during “crucial seasonal time periods.”
  6. Excluding farm equipment under Occupational Health and Safety regulations.
  7. Implementing similar exemptions to employment standards regulations as those proposed by the group for OH&S rules.

Mr. Lukaszuk’s letter concludes: “So where from here? We hope that this coordinated, nonpartisan and results oriented response to this unprecedented challenge will be of interest to you and your membership and that you will consider joining your partners in agriculture in speaking with one voice. We are confident that this approach will be the most effective one, considering the complexity of the matter and limited deadlines.

“At this time, we are interested in meeting with you, learning of your industry’s individual concerns and working with you to preserve the viability and competitiveness of Alberta’s agriculture industry.”

Before entering politics, Mr. Lukaszuk for seven years operated a consulting firm for Workers Compensation Board claimants, Injured Workers’ Advocates Inc.

As the PC MLA for the Edmonton-Castle Down riding, he served in various posts in the cabinets of premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, for whom he was deputy premier, and Dave Hancock.

In the summer of 2014, Mr. Lukaszuk ran for the leadership of the PC Party against Jim Prentice and Ric McIver.

Mr. Prentice won, named a cabinet that did not include Mr. Lukaszuk, and led the 44-year Tory dynasty to a humiliating defeat at the hands of Ms. Notley’s NDP on May 5, 2015. Mr. McIver is now acting leader of the nine-member PC caucus.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

14 Comments to: Former Tory labour minister and deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk enters the farm safety fray with ‘Bill 6 Taskforce’

  1. El

    December 20th, 2015

    This makes me chuckle…

    “a task group of well qualified and experienced professionals with agricultural backgrounds coalesced in order to analyze the impact of Bill 6 on individual producers and all sectors of the industry, assess the Bill’s financial and operational implications, develop a strategy to assist the Government in drafting practical Regulations and develop a communications strategy particularly aimed at urban Alberta.”

    So… where were all these “well qualified professionals” years ago when they had the opportunity to do this right, way back when? Legislation for Agriculture has been talked about, pissed and moaned over, but avoided in this province for years…but at some point it was inevitable…PCs knew that. It should have been addressed a long time ago. So, all that said, in their infinite wisdom, the NDP chose to take it on and bulldozed a poorly put together piece of half-assed written legislation and NOW the PC’s are concerned?…what ever it takes to get the popular vote back I guess. Pc’s are as much at fault for their avoidance of the issue because of their fear of losing the agricultural vote, as the NDP are for their ignorance and disrespect for Alberta business and agriculture, period.

    Reply
    • Ken Larsen

      December 20th, 2015

      I’m not sure you are being fair to the NDP here. They built Bill 6 on the consultations the Conservatives did with the agricultural check-off commissions. Many of us think this was not wise since those Commissions use less than democratic election procedures to insure only like minded right wing people sit on them.

      Nor is it fair to say the NDP did not listen. When many farmers whose vocabulary extends beyond “no” and “not now” pointed out some limitations to the Legislation the NDP listened and took the unusual step of exempting family farms and their voluntary helpers in the legislation itself so this exemption is as set in stone as it can be in our legal system.

      Incidentally, the call to exempt farm machinery from occupational health and safety standards is just beyond irresponsible. Over the past 40 years machinery manufactures have really improved the safety of farm equipment. This is because most of the machinery is now so powerful that removing safety shields is almost always a death sentence waiting to happen. I can tell you after several decades of owning and operating farm machinery it is no hardship to follow occupational health and safety rules.

      The NDP has allowed a political vacuum to develop and it is being filled by special interests.

      Reply
  2. Joyce Thomas

    December 20th, 2015

    Mr. Lukaszuk kind of reminds me of a jack-in-the-box….he keeps popping up here and there.
    My question with him and his ‘issues’ possibly seeking another consulting &/or political opportunity, or, a ‘rebirth?’, kind of reminds me of the question,”Who the hell do you think you are?”
    Then, do the other provinces have groups like this involved with their OH&S laws for farmers/ranchers? I was of the impression, with the amendments, that Bill 6 is no different now, than what other provinces have.
    Would the Notley government need to start getting a lot ‘crankier’ about this sort of thing? I guess we will see how they respond.

    Reply
    • Eileen

      December 20th, 2015

      I don’t know about the government getting cranky, but I sure am. Who decided to get these guys involved? Why was this all going on behind the scenes, and in fact would still be behind the scenes if not the leak of the e-mail? Who is paying for all of this? That’s a lot of suits for a freebie. These are questions ALL farmers are entitled to have answered. If indeed there is a specific group of producers being represented then that needs to be clarified. I am certainly not asking them to negotiate or represent me.

      Reply
  3. jerrymacgp

    December 20th, 2015

    More than likely, the big agricultural operations that can afford to hire Mr Lukaszuk et al., can also afford to implement reasonable workplace health & safety measures, pay WCB premiums, and provide workplaces that are consistent with provincial Employment Standards. Those small Mom & Pop (or, more likely, Grandma & Grandpa) farms, i.e. the so-called “small family farms” that opponents of the bill claim they so want to protect, won’t be able to pay them their lobbyist fees anyway.

    Reply
  4. Mark

    December 20th, 2015

    Poor Lukaszuk. I think we should feel sorry for him. He is chasing scraps from the NDP table to try to stay involved in public life.

    What he never realized is that he was neither progressive nor conservative enough to appeal to anyone in a strong way.

    Reply
  5. Perline

    December 20th, 2015

    Lukaszuk was in the wrong party. He’s not a conservative. He’d do well as a liberal.

    Reply
  6. Keith

    December 21st, 2015

    Let us know when the “Bill 6 Implementation Advisory Taskforce” is registered as a corporation or non-profit society or something. And if they have an office or even a website. They seem to think they are still in power and can declare themselves a “Taskforce” just by saying the word (whatever it means).

    It’s not clear whether they are a right wing “think tank” or just a company recruiting clients for their lawyers.

    Reply
  7. stranger-danger!

    December 21st, 2015

    Can anyone provide a link to the letter? I tried googling it but no dice.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      December 21st, 2015

      I have a copy of the letter, which was sent to producer groups. I won’t duplicate it and link to it because that might reveal where I got it by identifying the recipients. For those who would like to read the entire letter, typos and all, I am prepared to copy the text into a Word document, make that into a PDF and post the PDF. However, I can’t do that till this evening. DJC

      Reply
      • stranger-danger!

        December 21st, 2015

        If it isn’t made public, that would be greatly appreciated. Thanks David!

        Reply
  8. David

    December 21st, 2015

    Mr. Lukaszuk seems to be a bit of an odd choice for this group and cause. I didn’t think he had extensive experience or a background in agriculture. I hope he at least knows which end of a bull is which or he could end up covered in bs. I suppose it gives him something to do and perhaps helps gets his name back in the spotlight should he want to pursue politics or the PC leadership again.

    Reply
    • Tom in Ontario

      December 21st, 2015

      “I hope he at least knows which end of a bull is which or he could end up covered in bs.”

      Reminds me of world famous brewery and its team of horses which appear in Christmas commercials and parades. When asked where their wonderful beer is made, the stock response is, “What do think the horses are for?”

      Reply

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