Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said he supported Workers' Compensation Board coverage on Alberta farms when he appeared on a CBC radio show last spring during his party's leadership race.
Jean, whose party has slammed the NDP's controversial farm safety bill which would make WCB coverage mandatory for paid workers on farms and ranches, made the comments during a debate on Alberta at Noon with fellow candidates Linda Osinchuk and Drew Barnes on March 17.
All three candidates were asked by a listener if they supported extending charter rights to farm workers.
"I am a firm believer in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Constitution including Alberta's charter," Jean replied.
"I do believe that you can't have any rights unless all people are covered by those rights. I think all people, all Albertans, need to be protected," he added.
"But in this particular case, WCB obviously has some exemptions. One is small business owners as well, and the other, of course, farmers. I do believe we have to include them in that, WCB coverage, or indeed have a mechanism of equal value that might be self-insured, that might be a mechanism, for instance that they come up with by themselves."
Jean said he was aware the federal government had implemented some steps for small business owners so they have particular exemptions when they weren't covered.
"But I do believe there has to be a mechanism in place, either a self-insured one or another one or included in the WCB provisions," he said.
Deputy NDP house leader Deron Bilous said it appears Jean has done a flip flop on the issue.
"It makes me scratch my head in wonder as to why eight months ago this was a good thing," he said. "And in eight short months he's completely done a 180 and now suddenly farm workers shouldn't have that basic coverage and so it's disappointing, quite frankly."
Jean defends comments in written statement
Jean issued a written statement when asked for a reaction by CBC News Wednesday afternoon.
"As I said in March and as I'll say again now, I support all farmers and farm workers having options in insurance protection. Choice to opt into WCB coverage for farmers should be just that – a choice. Private insurance has been held by farmers for years, and would continue to be an effective form of coverage on Alberta farms.
"The Wildrose concerns about Bill 6 have never surrounded not wanting to protect farmers and farm workers, but about the distinct lack of consultation with those who will be affected by the omnibus legislation."
Over the past two weeks, Jean and the Wildrose caucus have vigorously fought the government's Bill 6, which aims to make WCB coverage mandatory for paid farm workers starting Jan. 1.
The NDP government used closure Wednesday to limit debate and push the bill through second reading at the legislature.