PHOTOS: The crowd outside the Westerner Centre in Red Deer, photo grabbed from the Twitter feed of Mary MacArthur, the Western Producer’s Alberta correspondent. Below: Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

Alberta’s New Democratic Government went into damage-control mode yesterday, giving the most vociferous critics of Bill 6 what they’ve been saying they want.

Will it work? It’s too soon to say. Naturally, the Opposition Wildrose Party – which has been profiting from the brouhaha – will try to keep the teakettle boiling. Still, there are signs the storm is abating.

Yesterday, NDP Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier jointly announced that Bill 6, the so-far controversial Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, would be amended to make it clear Workers Compensation Board coverage will only be required for paid farm employees and that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply only when farms employ paid workers.

Since the fierce opposition to Bill 6, which appears to have gobsmacked Alberta’s inexperienced NDP Government at a time it expected to be talking about more positive things, has focused on highly emotional and not very credible claims the bill’s apparent lack of exemptions from WCB coverage for immediate farm family members threatened the “way of life” associated with the family farm.

Why, farm kids won’t even be able to do their chores without WCB coverage, Albertans who don’t really have a stake in the battle but had been half listening were told repeatedly. Many were inclined to believe it at first.

The NDP framed the situation yesterday as the result of a lack of clarity from senior civil servants about what they really intended to do, which is probably true, although they sure would have helped their case if they’d communicated their plans better up front.

And no doubt when she returns to Alberta from the international climate conference in Paris, Ms. Notley will be wondering if she has to do everything herself to make sure it’s done right.

“We have listened to farmers and ranchers about the need for greater clarity,” Ms. Sigurdson said in a new release sent to media late yesterday afternoon. “It has never been our government’s intention to interfere with what family members, friends and neighbours have always done on the family farm.

“That’s why we will amend Bill 6 to make clear what was our intention all along – that farm families would be exempt from those laws, which were designed to protect paid employees,” her statement said.

Said Mr. Carlier in the same release: “We appreciate the concerns farmers and ranchers have raised. To be clear, Bill 6 is not in any way going to affect children doing their chores, participating in 4-H, or learning the family business.

“It does not prevent neighbours, relatives and friends from helping each other out during busy times,” his statement continued. “It does not apply to recreational activities such as riding horses or hunting on farmland.

“What Bill 6 does is bring Alberta farm and ranch safety standards in line with other provinces, and ensure that if a wage-earning employee is injured or killed on the job, that person and their family have the same access to financial supports as employees in other sectors.”

Well, whatever you happen to think the government planned at the start of this brouhaha, their intentions are now pretty clear, and would be hard for them to change course again.

If most of Bill 6’s opponents accept this, we will know that they meant what they said about fearing these policies would put their farming lifestyle at risk, even if their fears weren’t justified as far as Bill 6 was concerned. And they will be right to count these amendments as a victory.

But if they continue their hyperbolic protests – Ms. Notley was compared to both Stalin and Hitler at a “town hall” meeting in Red Deer yesterday attended by Mr. Carlier and Ms. Sigurdson – it will be reasonable for those of us who don’t have a dog in the fight to start wondering if some other agenda is at play, and not necessarily one that truly benefits the farm community.

I’m afraid I didn’t make it to the Red Deer town hall, but my eyes in the room – which belong to a farmer, not a government official, by the way – observed the anger start to dissipate as Mr. Carlier kept repeating that the rules would only apply to paid employees who receive a T4 slip.

Mr. Carlier also apologized and took personal responsibility for the communications failure, lowering the air pressure even more.

As Alberta farmer Ken Larsen of the Canadian Wheat Board Alliance wrote in his blog yesterday, “what could there possibly be to dislike about Workers’ Compensation legislation which not only provides people employed by farmers with disability insurance but makes their farmer and rancher bosses immune from lawsuits?”

The source of the Bill 6 problem in Mr. Larsen’s estimation? Senior bureaucrats left over from 44 years of market-fundamentalist Tory government who may not have the government’s interests – or those of famers – at heart.

Wildrose operatives will now be looking for a way to turn the heat back up again.

Next, we’ll take a look at the Opposition party’s call for election recall legislation, one idea they hope can do the job of reigniting this week’s passions.

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  1. So late for a comment. I think the underlying class analytic here is that small farmers who pay wage labour will now be paying more $ in terms of comp coverage and access of farm labourers to minimum wage standards than they themselves receive from farm income + off farm jobs. The children were lifted up by Wildrose zealots as being the ones most affected by this bill. Well, as Climenhaga’s article points out, children are not affected. Only paid labour is affected. On top of that, Bill 6 evidently leaves open a channel through which the agricultural workers can unionize. Regardless that the NDP government is only allowing this possibility, the small farmer will be hard pressed by the circumstances. The small individual farmer cannot control price fetched by his/her products, nor control the price of inputs which are controlled by oligopolies. And now, the Bill 6 is going to raise the costs for all farmers, some of whom can afford all this [ read: 12 section agribusness success farmers] and those who cannot. In a class analytic, the only equality available is one vote for every parson 18 years and up. And the farm vote is exceed by 85% to 15% in the demographic shakeout of the province. The Notley crew will weather the storm!

  2. Looks like some people were just dying for a reason to fly off the handle. Now that the boondoggle of farms kids needing helmets to feed the cows has passed, thank goodness, I think Mr. Larsen has a point.
    Most senior bureaucrats are moved on once a new government comes in. I don’t think it makes sense that someone who has administered policy under a particular regime for so long, can immediately change spots.
    Especially in Alberta, the people who work in the public service have been trained and worked within the guidelines set by the PC’s forever, and cannot be expected to start looking at issues through different lenses.
    I am sure they would say they are professional and would never consciously do anything to do political harm to their new bosses.
    I am not so sure. I would like proof of that.
    A deputy minister who knew what he was doing, would never have hung the minister out to dry as was done to Ministers Carlier and Sigurdson.

  3. So the NDP government will now “make it clear Workers Compensation Board coverage will only be required for paid farm employees and that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply only when farms employ paid workers.”

    You would expect the text of any Bill to explicitly and clearly make it “clear” how exactly that law is going to work. Not in NDP Alberta though. Ram the bill through first, ask questions later. Don’t you worry your pretty little farmer heads now! Scurry off back into the sticks!

    I was hoping we’d see an improvement from the reckless, condescending PC days. Sigh.

  4. “It does not prevent neighbours, relatives and friends from helping each other out during busy times,”

    So it’s like if I prune my neighbour’s trees and then she fixes my car. No money changes hands, no income tax, GST, licence fees or insurance. The CRA considers this the “underground economy” and have been known to go after participants for tax evasion.

  5. Bill 6 should have been thought of 30 years ago already ,everyone who is against it is possible a farmer who is not doing anything legal that’s why they are against it and wcb doesn’t cost much money so why not have it in place for the employees instead of screwing up there life with enjuries and not getting a penny

  6. Lots of information is available on the Bill 6 right a long standing wrong – Parkland Institude – read it – great information. It has become very clear that many of the people upset about it are intellects that read and do their homework so it is very obvious it is a chance to determinate the sucess of the NDP government. Notley has guts – she took on an issue the PC party has been afraid to do and take a chance at loosing PC rural support. Hopefully by doing it early the issue will go away when people realize it was necessary. Look at the statistics of farm fatalities and injuries in Alberta- pretty shocking when you compare it to BC where there are a significant higher number of farm employees but have had legislation in place since 1993. Wake up Alberta this Bill 6 is a good thing and it is a fine example of an Alberta premier taking responsibility for all Albertans! P.S. it also protects the farming business from lawsuits that rob them of them of their livelihood – plus lawyers might hate it due to less lawsuits – oh well.

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