PHOTOS: NDP Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson chats with anti-Bill-6 protesters in front of the Legislature on Friday. Below: The crowd of protesters at its zenith and members of the Legislative Press Gallery interviewing a turkey, not for the first time, either!

From here in the city, it almost looks as if rural Alberta has worked itself into a full-blown tantrum over Bill 6, the NDP Government’s legislation to require basic health and safety mechanisms and workplace rights for farm and ranch employees just like every other province in Canada.

At a small demonstration on the steps of the Alberta Legislature Friday the claim was heard repeatedly that Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, will “destroy the family farm way of life,” and if coffee shop chatter is anything to go by, many Albertans are persuaded this is true.

Bill6CrowdThere were about 150 people at Friday’s demonstration – augmented by curious civil servants, passers-by, NDP politicians like Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson, and a large media contingent. Protesters cleverly brought along two ponies, a very sweet Border collie and a noisy and healthy looking turkey, proving someone knew a thing or two about how to attract journalists to an event.

Since the protesters didn’t just hop off an LRT car – in some cases they drove many kilometres to take part – we can assume that in rural Alberta this issue has legs, quite often four of them, although perhaps not universal support among farmers.

So you can expect there to be a bigger crowd, and one that’s easier for the government’s opponents to hijack, at Westerner Park in Red Deer Tuesday, where a “town hall” meeting on Bill 6 is scheduled.

Several factors have contributed to the current state of affairs, including:

  1. A full-blown campaign of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) in rural areas by the Wildrose Party and professional far-right agitators from extremist political groups like the so-called Rebel Media operation.
  2. A serious communications breakdown by an inexperienced government that didn’t talk first with the people impacted, can’t seem to explain why the legislation is needed let alone how it works, and has an agriculture minister who is keeping too low a profile for the circumstances.
  3. The fact the government can’t just waltz away from this because it’s become a political hot potato – both the courts and natural justice demand basic workplace safety, collective bargaining and insurance protection for agricultural employees whether some farmers like it or not.
  4. The reality that notwithstanding the hair-on-fire hysteria by some people in the farm community, opponents of Bill 6 have highlighted legitimate problems with the legislation that need to be corrected, and can be.

In other words, this mess needs a reboot, but not one that involves a lengthy delay or hands an apparent victory to an essentially irresponsible opposition.

TurkeyIf the changes needed are made and the legislation is then passed expeditiously, this problem can be smoothed over – although the opposition will do its best to keep people stirred up with endless truckloads of FUD until the next election.

The best answer to the FUD Factor would be some clarity from the government about how Bill 6 is supposed to work, which they haven’t provided up to now. Everyone who has followed this brouhaha, opponents and supporters alike, is confused about some aspects of Bill 6. This has aided the opposition campaign enormously, and the government has no one to blame but itself.

One thing is clear, though, and this is that the claim Bill 6 will destroy the traditional “family farm” and its way of life is nonsense, no matter how passionately it is believed in certain quarters. The proof of this is simple enough: if it were true, the family farm would no longer exist anywhere else in Canada, because everywhere else in Canada has similar legislation.

Moreover, some opponents of this legislation – who may be associated with large agricultural operations closer to factories than farms and which often hire unskilled workers from nearby cities or even other countries to work with large, dangerous and aggressive animals – are intentionally fudging the definition of “family farm” for self-interested economic reasons. And don’t forget private insurance providers and ambulance-chasing lawyers who stand to lose money if Workers Compensation Board no-fault insurance comes into force.

The main argument for Bill 6 is the obvious need for no-fault Workers Compensation to protect both agricultural workers and their employers, enforcement of basic occupational health and safety rules in agricultural workplaces that have paid employees, and recognition of the right of paid workers on agricultural operations to refuse unsafe work. Those workers’ constitutional right to bargain collectively must also be recognized before the courts step in and force the issue.

Why the government hasn’t successfully communicated these points is something of a mystery. Surely it could have made the case that without WCB coverage injured employees could sue their farmer-employers for everything they own or leave them facing the costs of their legal defence.

This, presumably, is why farmers in other parts of Canada aren’t particularly unhappy with this arrangement. The NDP should have banged away on this point: “We’re protecting rural job creators from frivolous and expensive lawsuits.”

Most large agricultural operators in Alberta, such as feedlots, already have disability insurance and other benefits because they have to compete with the oil and gas sector for workers. But this is no argument for not making such coverage a legal responsibility, because there are irresponsible employers in every business.

Since farmers can’t pass on extra costs the way other businesses do because markets over which they have no control set agricultural commodity prices, they have a legitimate concern about the potential extra costs Bill 6 may entail. But the government could address that cost concern.

As for enforcing workplace safety rules, as a farming acquaintance of mine says: “Big deal! In practice all that means is if I actually hire a person to run the grain truck or combine, I have to go over how to operate it safely and they can refuse to work with equipment that does not have the safety shields in place, and I have to provide basic safety equipment like ear protectors and dust masks. Basic common sense and Darwin in action if I don’t do it for my own family.”

However, the fact farmers have to read at least 10 complicated facts sheets published in different places on the province’s website to understand this amounts to a major communications failure that has helped the opposition.

So now we get to the hair-on-fire bit, which the “Fuddites” of the Wildrose Party are fanning effectively: the need to exempt from WCB requirements immediate family members and non-wage helpers who lend a hand on a good-neighbour basis.

This is the basis of the emotional claims the family farm and the way of life associated with it are threatened, and it is a legitimate concern with Bill 6.

The bill should be amended to fix this, and easily can be with an exemption announced loudly and proudly by the government. Paid employees, though, obviously need to come under this requirement.

When the legislative dust has settled, farm children are still going to be able to do their chores without having to be covered by Workers Compensation.

And if the family farm way of life is threatened, it won’t be by Alberta’s Bill 6, but by policies like the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board and the planned elimination of egg, poultry and dairy supply management by the unlamented Conservative federal government of former prime minister Stephen Harper.

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  1. Thank you for your lengthy take on these events. To polarize less I would place your #2 point about govt communication as number one and point to ministers walking into the crowd as huge in relationship building which they are still doing with rural citizens. I was at a conference recently and heard farmers talking about how open and interested the new government was. Like many Albertans farmers are grumpy about lack of consultation in regard to regulation but know it’s got to come.

    1. Does everyone know that if there is and Accident on the family farm OH&S will shut down the farm for up to a week to investigate..When they order a shut down that means that hundreds of Animals will not get fed for up to a week because a SHUT DOWN is in order..Not even your neighbor can come and feed your animals…they will starve and die..has any one thought of this? NO!!! But Legislation will be in effect as of January 1st 2015 and the Animals of Alberta will have no rights either!!! Get a grip NOTLEY and see what you have created!!! Kill Bill 6!!!

      1. That’s why so many thousands of farm animals in the rest of the country have starved …. Get a grip, Christine: whatever actions the OH&S take in other provinces don’t mean that the animals are starved.

  2. It’s not farm safety that will kill the family farm, it’s farm children dying in farm accidents. It is extremely sad when young girls suffocate in a seed truck, and when a 10-year old is crushed by a forklift, but it begs the question what is the role of parents. As a young adult I have spent several years on a family farm. By the time the children were allowed to venture outside on their own they knew not to play around machinery (moving or stationary), animals, grain bins and trucks; they were supervised when they visited dad on the field and they sat in the cab when driving to deliver grain or animals. These children grew up to have kids and grand kids of their own, they still live on farms and never had a serious farm accident. Safety legislation is long overdue, but I the the current Bill 6 needs some

    1. Shame on you! You don’t know the family and you insinuate they played a role in the devastating deaths of their three children. Perfect timing for the NDP to push Bill 6. I grew up on a farm and my parents taught me safety, it was instilled in me and my sisters, but only by the grace of the Divine am I still here today and I know thousands would say the same. Children are children and teenagers will be teenagers, no matter the environment they live in. And no matter the environment, accidents happen, some worse than others.
      Rural Albertans don’t condemn parents living in urban centers for allowing their child to ride their bike on the dangerous city streets, where crime, drugs, gangs are prevalent!. Shall I start listing the dangers of living in a city?? Safety Education is needed and legislation for corporate and commercial farms that do have employees, but the concern is around the family farm who does not have any workers/employees and the impact of Bill 6.

      1. Debbie: Violent crime is higher in rural areas in Canada than in major urban centres, although not than in small urban centres. Murder rates are higher in rural areas than in either small or large urban areas. So get off yer high horse about cities being hellholes full of crime, drugs and gangs compared to the sticks. Statistics Canada says it isn’t true:

      2. I couldn’t agree with you more Debbie. Well said.

        Accidents Happen. Commercial and Corporate Farms are or will be part if the issue.

        We can’t all live in this fantasy bubble so many people are creating for society these days. Keep the government out if the farmers way of life.

        Let’s put it this way. 1rst. WCB is a joke. Secondly, it’s the EXACT same concept when I say, next we’ll be needing to have visitor insurance in our homes or have our homes checked by government for safety standards. What about inviting the “help” in for lunch or dinner? Technically, if your dishes aren’t done, it’s a safety issue because of facteria under a law the restaraunts use. Sound ridiculous? For sure, however, when someone has to do their job with the government, they got to do it. The point is, there’s too much power for abuse under the guise of safety and health to the detriment of the everyday farmer. Some people may think it makes sense, on the surface, but when you think about the potential, it can be a set up for disaster. Everything will need to be perfect and only those who have the most utmost capital and spending power will benifit.

        1. Welcome to Alberta where government regulations to protect 10 year olds from being mangled by farm machinery is seen as a bad thing.

          Next, the government will be regulating drinking water. Oh wait…

          Damn the guvment I like drinking contaminated water, and as for kids, well…

  3. I agree with all of your points except point 1. The grassroots groundswell started without opposition help. There are many rural people who are normally politically disengaged who are concerned by this bill. The government advertising that implies mistreatment of employees by farmers doesn’t help either.

  4. Good stab at an overview Dave. The FUDDITES are running amok with wild claims and sneaky metaphors to appeal to the mob rule crowd. The media such as the newspapers and CBC are quite lazy with respect to challenging the tub thumpers to explain themselves. The Reeve guy from the Hat who says private insurance is better and less expensive is not asked to clarify how he determined that. The CBC headlines its story with a picture of a photogenic cowboy hatted protester mom clutching her child to her breast, appropos of shielding the child from the big bad public standards, the Edmonton area “safety expert” and farmer conjures the image of the big bad bill stopping the neighbours helping a cancer victim to harvest his crop. Lots of soppy axe grinding fear mongering going on. The bow hunting supplies company from Calgary Saturday posting that OH&S will end hunting on farmer’s land on January 1 because the landowner will have to train and sign off on safety competence of hunters on their property, and a call to arms of all hunters to rise up and smote this phenomenon. Absolute lunacy but as you say, the gov’t isn’t doing enough to get their act together.
    The FUDDITES ask loaded presumptive questions without a scintilla of interest in dialogue or debate.
    I’ll provide my own by way of ” Are you still endangering the lives of your 10 year old by authorizing them to drive a dangerous power machine, with out an operator’s certificate of competence?”
    To say nothing about the complete absence of any definition of just what a farmer is and their relative position in the agri-food economy.

    1. Did you know in 2013 as MLA, Notley was advocating for the “Injured Workers of Alberta” saying that there was significant problems WCB and if the NDP were voted in she would review and revise the structure of WCB and immediately engage in reviewing legislation. She is now Premier of our great province and this has yet to be done (I’ve done my homework), but yet she wants to pass Bill 6 through at record speed making it mandatory for ALL farmers and ranchers to pay WCB premiums. Explain to me how this makes sense for the family run farm who does not have any employees, referred to as farm workers by NDP.
      A family farm means the family is the one who lives and works there – dad, mom and children – NO employees, the family is NOT paying a worker . WCB was created for the employer not the employee, so how does it make sense for someone to pay WCB premium when they have no employees, therefore they are not an employer. Farmers and ranchers are required to carry farm insurance with minimum 2,000,000 liability. I would suppose there will be exceptions as there is in any industry.
      As for endangering a 10 year old boy driving a piece of farm equipment….who do you think cares about the safety of their children more than the mom’s and dad’s working and raising a family on a farm. Obviously and at no fault of your own, do you understand farm life…..I could say the same thing about how dangerous it is for parents to be raising their children in the city where they live and work…..WOW….gangs, drugs, the crime rate….I’m guessing parents try and teach their children safety, not to talk to strangers, where they can go and where not, what is not safe play, etc, etc. but things still happen don’t they.
      The unfortunate thing is not understanding, really knowing how the family farm life really is. So I suppose you can speak only to what you think you know. Bill 6 includes four (union and government)entities – WCB, OH&S, Labour Relations and Employment Standards with no variances for the type of farm – commercial or family operated. Have you read Bill 6? Do you know all that it entails? Don’t be deceived, the NDP have an agenda and the impact will be felt by all, not just farm families.

  5. Thanks for an excellent column, David. Yours was the first bit of media coverage I have read that addressed specifically what farmers don’t like about Bill 6: the fact that they are unable to pass on the cost of WCB coverage to their customers. Mostly it has seemed like the opposition was just general ‘It will kill the family farm’ without saying how.

  6. Quote: The proof of this is simple enough: if it were true, the family farm would no longer exist anywhere else in Canada, because everywhere else in Canada has similar legislation.

    This is entirely inaccurate. What we know and gas been proven many times over is that you give the government an inch, they take a yard either out of political agenda, overzealousness, or misinformation. The word you need to ammend this quote to is “….yet”

    Too many times, we make it 100 times more difficult, and costly by the way, to reverse a decision later instead of taking care of it at its root. Has anyone ever thought that an entire plan is implemented with a low profile and don’t with lax because they want to regulate everyone first and then come down on them later. Why you ask? It’s because it’s much like a corporate structure. There are the what I call “Super Producers” who have capital and are all about the money, who are but a few and then a ton of everyone else below. Just like say Walmart vs. Your local store. There will be a few on board with Bill 6 simply because the want to get the smaller to mid producers out of the game or at least hinder them. This is in fact damaging to a way of life for them. You can’t tell me there’s not a difference between Average Joe’s store and Walmart. There’s no difference here. Maybe not today or tomorrow but it will come. They’ll all be robotic like in the agriculture workplace. This is all not to mention that safety is so subjective. You can find hazards and safety anywhere if you look hard enough. Get a guy on a bad day, and a farmer could potentially be ruined quite quickly.

  7. we got hair on fire buckle bunnies
    camped out on the road
    in front of tim hortons
    getting the petition signed down here
    having read your article
    i was going to bring up some points to them
    glad i had the sense to just drive away

    1. Maybe you should have walked over with an open mind and asked them a few questions. You may be surprised at the things they may know. Is it possible that you are surrounded by misinformed and tainted media?
      I’ve been to the meetings. I had an open mind and many questions. I left feeling misinformed and overwhelmed. The answers they gave those who attended are nothing like the speeches Ms. Notley is giving the media.

  8. It would be interesting to see how many missing thumbs or fingers you can at these farmer-led demos.

    True story. Back in the 1980’s I was friends with a lot of Salvadoran refugees (speaking of refugees) who fled the violence in Central America and were settling in Edmonton. They had seen things we couldn’t imagine. There was one fellow I saw regularly. He was really cheerful. Then one day I saw him and it was a shocking site. He was missing an arm.

    You guessed it. He had taken a job on a farm and lost his arm in some machinery. Here was somebody who survived the violence in his home country only to loose his limb on a farm in Alberta.

    1. There’s something my granddad told me as a kid on the farm. Real easy to remember. Think a bit before you do some thing stupid. Don’t put your fingers where you wouldn’t put your pecker……I’ve still got all my digits after 35 years of on the farm work, working heavy industry and oilfield. Common sense and a little bit of forethought will get you through most of life. If you don’t know….ask. If you are unsure, don’t go ahead. All us kids were shown how to do things before we were just let to run free. Safety starts at home and you can’t legislate common sense. Some people just don’t have the tools they need and no legislation will ever fix that.

  9. Well said! There’s some issues with Bill 6 that need fixed but the basic ideas is a good one and Alberta has been lagging behind other provinces on this. It’s truly ashame the Alberta NDP government couldn’t get its act together and have a good communications team in place for this. Anyone with a passing familiarity with the right wingers could see this would turn into a fuss from the word go.

  10. Well you have provided your opinion column, which is fine. However it’s not a news article and not entirely factual. It’s also heavily left leaning in spin.

    The biggest fault I have with your column is your own FUD about the wheat board and supply management. It appears you have not done your homework on either but are willing to throw them under the political bus because they were done or promoted by a right of centre party…

    You also need to better understand that any changes in the legislation are partly because of the wild rose. I didn’t vote for them or the ndp, but the wild rose are doing a good job in opposition and the ndpay are implementing drastic and potentially harmful legislation to a province in flux. When a need for stable hands is required we have inexperienced leaders, and mlas. Poor policy decisions, and a lack of balance is what the ndpay are providing.

    Min wage hike, lack of support for the economy, increased taxes, $9 billion deficit. (Before they drain the sustainability fund) A net debtor of approx $50 billion in 4 years. No idea how to balance a budget, the economy, or represent albertans in general. But they sure can pander to special interest groups!

  11. Have to agree with you on this one David. I listened to Oneil Carlier on the radio this morning. This guy is a serious liability. Straight out of the Klein playbook. I have no idea why he’s a Minister. He can’t organize his thoughts, has no idea what’s going on around himself and simply can’t speak coherently.
    He’s a prime target for the smooth talking grifters that promote the resource sector and the danger is that he’ll cave into one of their seemingly magical plans.
    He can’t explain himself, he can’t defend himself and he sure can’t defend Albertans interests. He’s got to go to the back bench where he belongs.

  12. What an article!!! The wild rose create FUD over bill 6. I guess their constituents calling them for help, then them actually listening to their constituents and trying to relay there concerns to the government is them just creating Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. I thought that was them doing there job. If we want to talk about FUD, as they like to call it, let’s talk about a 3 billion dollar carbon tax done in the name of climate change, and the FUD commercials the NDP are airing about how somehow a 3 billion dollar carbon tax is going to fix melting glaciers, air quality and such. I love how this article talks about how bill 6 ensures farmers rights to collectively bargain (aka unionize)but when the farmers across the province collectively come together and try to bargain with the government, the government does little to show any concern for them. Just about anything the NDP government has done to date they have struck a committee to review their proposed changes, except here. They went ahead with no relevant consultation towards bill 6. The NDP themselves could not answer to what all was in bill 6, but the writer of this article thinks that farmers and the wild rose are wrong to question it. And when they do they’re just spreading FUD. There is nothing wrong with ensuring all Albertans have the right to come home safely, and done properly bill 6 is not a bad thing. But the entire way the government has dealt with bill 6, whether it was the total lack of consulting with farmers, communicating with farmers, or taking into consideration the farmers themselves, was wrong. Any problem, no matter what it is with bill 6 is a direct result of the NDP’s doing, and no one else’s. To say the opposition listening to their constituents is creating FUD is wrong in so many ways I can’t begin to start on it. Farming is a way of life and our proud Albertan farmers deserve a lot more respect and consideration than the Notley government is giving them.

    1. The group referenced here as being being given the right to collectively bargain are paid farm employees. Farmers have a collective bargaining problem because they don’t have a single employer. They used to have the Wheat Board and like co-operative institutions, but they don’t any more. But you can’t blame the NDP for that.

  13. David, could you please supply some data on all of the lawsuits in Alberta that WCB coverage would have prevented. Since you list that as an advantage to farmers it would be interesting to see your take on this “benefit” for family farms. Regarding the “right ” to unionize, how would that work when their isn’t a single employer? Would farmers be required by law to hire only union members? Your article is presented with an obvious “left of centre” bias, and to blame the opposition for creating this furor is disingenuous at best.
    Regarding the wheat board, did not the majority of farmers want it gone? I guess they just don’t know what’s good for them. So glad we have a government to take care of them, whether they want it or not.

  14. David – I think you got a few points right but are missing a lot of the farmers’ concerns. All the more reason to try to engage farmers before legislating which you agree with. I live in both worlds and have never seen my farm friends so upset. Most are not political. Leave the Wheat Board and Supply Management for another day. The Wheat Board is history now.Interesting how much support $30000 cows get from some quarters – not a sustainable situation in a competitive global environment and a real drag on our food processing industry and other exporting sectors. Sucks the air out of the room for our negotiators when they have to talk out of two sides of their mouths at the same time for purely political purposes.

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