Bill 6 confusion in Alberta prompts farm convoy to Okotoks for meeting with ministers
Southern Alberta farmers travel in cluster to show opposition en route to meeting with government ministers
Southern Alberta farmers upset by what they describe as a lack of information about Bill 6, the province's new farm-safety legislation, travelled to a meeting with government ministers in Okotoks today in a convoy.
Pickup trucks, semi-trailers, tractors and a variety of specialized agricultural vehicles queued up and travelled north on Highway 2 in one large group en route to the town-hall-style forum.
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"We're showing solidarity in that this industry as a whole is opposed to this bill," said Wade Nelson, who farms just west of High River.
The farmers' vehicles travelled mostly in the righthand lanes, leaving the left lane for other vehicles to pass, and the convoy had a police escort.
Nelson said the size of the group reflects the extent to which farmers want to be engaged on the legislation, something they feel has been lacking so far.
"That's a big issue here. We really lack information on this bill and exactly how it's going to affect all of us," he said.
"People are obviously quite upset and they all want to be at this meeting."
Larry Sears, who rode a horse in the convoy, said Alberta's NDP government doesn't understand farming and suggested it doesn't have a legitimate mandate.
"We need to remind this government they were not elected on their campaign promises," Sears said. "It was an accidental election."
The proposed changes under Bill 6 would eliminate existing exemptions for farms under occupational health and safety laws, bringing Alberta in line with every other province.
Premier Rachel Notley has said this would not prevent children from pitching in around the family farm or from participating in 4-H programs.
The bill would also mandate farm operators to pay Workers Compensation Board (WCB) premiums for their employees, something that most other provinces do, but which Sears described as a "non-starter" for him.
"Many of us have private insurance and benefits programs that are far superior," he said.
The province has stated that "WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends."
Ministers address crowd
Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson spent more than an hour speaking with the crowd, who gathered outside an Okotoks hotel in order to make room for everyone who showed up.
The crowd routinely booed and shouted down the ministers, and repeatedly chanted their demand to "kill the bill," at least until it can be addressed at committee with more formal input from industry members.
Premier Rachel Notley told reporters earlier this week she still intends to push the legislation through the legislature before the end of the year, and Carlier didn't answer directly when asked in Okotoks if there was any chance of the government changing its mind on that.
Overall, the agriculture minister said he was pleased to see so many farmers come out to the information session.
"I'm quite happy with the level of engagement," Carlier said. "I wouldn't call it a backlash. We need input from as many farmers as we can."
More town halls to come
The Okotoks meeting comes one day after hundreds of farmers crammed into a community hall in Red Deer to express their concerns to Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier. Many more were turned away at the door for a lack of space.
The province plans to hold six more similar meeting in the coming weeks in the following locations:
- Lethbridge: Dec. 3
- Medicine Hat: Dec. 4
- Leduc: Dec. 7
- Vegreville: Dec. 8
- Olds: Dec. 9
- Athabasca: Dec. 14