After weeks of protests and hours of discussion, Alberta's contentious farm safety bill passed third and final reading Thursday — but the toll was visible in the final hour of debate.
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Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, an NDP MLA from Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley, wept in the legislature as she spoke about being threatened and cyberbullied over the bill.
McCuaig-Boyd said she and her husband spent 28 years as cow-calf operators, something the opposition would not find on her resume.
"I do understand farming," she said haltingly as she choked up with tears. "My adult children are who they are today because of farming.
"This past week. We have received many calls, some in support, some not. But a climate has been created where people are afraid to speak. I, myself, was somewhat concerned to go home last week.
"I do know now what it's like to be cyberbullied. I do know now what it's like to have threats."
Bill 6 subjects farms and ranches to occupational health and safety rules and makes it mandatory for operations with paid employees to carry workers compensation coverage.
Amendments made to the bill exempt family members on farms whether they are paid for farm work or not. Neighbours who come to the farm to help are also exempt.
Opposition to Bill 6 drew thousands of people to town halls and protests across the province. On Wednesday, the Wildrose tabled a petition with more than 30,000 signatures.
Interim Liberal Leader David Swann, a supporter of Bill 6, accused the Wildrose of using the issue for political purposes by using inflammatory rhetoric. He said they rarely said anything about the farm workers the bill is supposed to protect.
"I heard lots of talk about farm owners and their rights, and ownership and protection of property rights, freedom to choose insurance," he said. "I didn't hear hardly any talk about farm worker rights."
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, whose party vigorously fought Bill 6, denied his party was trying to whip rural areas into a frenzy.
"That's simply not true," he said. "The population has whipped the Wildrose into action because they have been very clear that they do not want this bill to go through as it is and they want proper consultation."
Passage of the bill was a victory for Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, who with his partner Darlene Dunlop has spent 14 years fighting for farm workers rights.
"This is literally the emancipation of the Alberta farmworker," Musekamp said. "We're very pleased."
While Musekamp was being interviewed by reporters, he turned to thank Premier Rachel Notley as she walked down the hall.
"Premier! Thank you, premier," he called. Notley turned and waved and then posed for a photo with Dunlop.
"Rachel and I worked on this for quite a while as well," Musekamp said. "Since the first day she was elected as an MLA, she's wanted to do this."
Musekamp said he wasn't surprised it was hard to get the legislation passed. Like Swann, he blamed the Wildrose for inflaming the issue by taking advantage of mistakes the NDP made in introducing the bill.