I really had hoped that the Notley government had learned it’s lesson in late November and early December last year- Alberta farmers were not prepared to take their intrusive legislation lying down. Bill 6 made news headlines for weeks and stirred an uproar the like of which my generation has hardly ever seen in provincial politics. You can read my original statement here: Bill 6 and the End of the Family Farm.
While perhaps not intended to be as overarching, socialist and far reaching as the bill was originally interpreted, farmers across the province banded together to let the Notley government know that we would not bow down to the bill by rallying multiple times in Edmonton and staging protest convoys. Regardless of intent, however, the bill is still written as a heavy-handed, unsolicited piece of legislation which would does little to improve safety on farms, and paves the way for intrusive government OH&S investigation. Further, it essentially allows unions to move in and take over the workplaces of large farms, most of which are still family owned and operated, as they have been for decades.
Late last week, the consulting boards we were promised in early January have finally been put together, almost 6 months after the passing of the skeleton bill (which somehow went into effect January 1, without being fleshed out or amended…?). Six consultation groups have been assembled, covering the topics of: The Employment Standards Code, Labour Relations Code, two groups cover the Review of Existing Requirements and Exceptions, Best Practices for Agriculture, and Education, Training, and Certifications. The detailed outlines of these groups are available here: Alberta government website.
We knew these groups were coming, and we had been told to be patient. The groups were expected to be put together in early March. It is now late May. Not unexpected from any government. We were told these groups would be representative of the agriculture community. They are. We were NOT told that these groups would be chaired by union employees, lawyers, union facilitators and university professors. We were NOT told that of 78 members across 6 groups, only 23 (29%, less than a third) of them would be farmers and members of the AgCoalition , and the rest would be union employees, government employees, nurses, professors and many others whom have no viable connection to Alberta agriculture. (Wheat Growers VP disappointed with Bill 6 working group picks, only 29% farmers)
How are we now to expect that these groups have the best interests of the agriculture community in mind? How can I sleep at night and know that these people will come to the best conclusions, when two-thirds of every group is constructed of people who may not understand the businesses they are attempting to regulate? Alberta agriculture is the oldest, proudest business sector in the province. We have existed, farmed, and ranched since before Edmonton was Fort Edmonton, and certainly long before the province was formed 111 years ago. Alberta agriculture deserves better than a 1/3 representation in the most influential ag bill of the new millennium. This is nothing more than a slap in the face to Alberta farmers, and a statement to the effect that we cannot be trusted to put together legislation that works for all producers. We do not need to be told. by unions, by white-collars, or by the Notley government how to best keep ourselves, our families, and our employees safe. Bill 6 is not over, in my opinion. Indeed, the fight against it may really just be starting.