Not long after 1,500 farmers and ranchers protested Bill 6 outside the Alberta legislature Thursday, Premier Rachel Notley vowed to push ahead with the legislation.
In her first appearance in the legislature this week, Notley refused to back away from a plan to implement aspects of the bill that come into effect Jan. 1.
"I'm very, very proud that when passed this fall, this bill will ensure that paid farm workers will finally enjoy the protections enjoyed by every other worker," she told the legislature.
The government plans to introduce amendments to "clarify" that the bill, which subjects farms and ranches to occupational health and safety rules and mandatory Workers' Compensation Board coverage, only applies to paid workers.
Cabinet ministers have insisted this was the government's intention all along, despite contrary indications in WCB documents.
Notley said she takes full responsibility for the "miscommunication" around the bill.
"As the premier, that ultimately rests with me," she said. "But I also, as the premier, have to think about the 177 farm workers who are paid, who will be hospitalized between Jan. 1 and Apr. 1."
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Notley said she wasn't sure if the amendments would immediately quell protests against Bill 6.
But she told reporters at a news conference that people will eventually come around, particularly when critics see the legislation won't prevent children from doing chores on family farms, as some critics had feared
"I think when all is said and done, people will see that we've protected a vulnerable group of workers, and we have also not in any way undermined the ability of our very important farm families to continue to do what they do."
As a former advocate for injured workers, Notley said the issue is personal to her. She wants farm workers to have the right to refuse unsafe work and get access to compensation if they are hurt.
The amendments to the bill will address some contentious issues that the government originally planned to write into regulations over the next year, Notley said.
"When the process is finished, I hope to have earned back whatever trust we may have lost."
About an hour and a half earlier, the boisterous but peaceful protest crowd chanted "Kill Bill 6" and sang along to a rewritten version of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" called "Naughty Notley Running the Show."
An earlier rally on the steps of the legislature on Monday drew more than 1,000 people. Farmers also packed town hall meetings in Okotoks and Red Deer over the past two days to voice their anger with the bill.
So far the government has resisted calls from farmers and the opposition to ditch the bill and do more consultations.
MLAs debated the bill, which is currently in second reading, until about 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
Government House Leader Brian Mason accused the opposition of filibustering the bill. He said the government will introduce amendments when the bill moves into committee of the whole.
Not a single NDP member spoke about Bill 6 during the debate Wednesday night. Mason said he didn't think that was unusual.
"Once we have our amendment on the floor, our members will feel they will have a lot more to talk about," he said.
During the debate, Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen called on the government to pull the bill and consult further. She said the situation is similar to what the Conservatives experienced with Bill 10, which dealt with gay-straight alliances, a year ago.
"We misjudge on our legislation," Jansen said. "We go in with the best of intentions, and then we have to turn around and say, 'you know what, that wasn't the right fit,' " she said.
"So there is an opportunity here. There's an opportunity to pull this, to go back, and to sit down with these folks who want good legislation."
Notley was out of the country at the United Nations climate change talks while opposition to the bill has intensified.
On Thursday, her staff distributed a fact sheet to show that every other Canadian province and territory has workplace safety rules on farms. Four provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia — don't require WCB coverage on farms.