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Bill 6 town hall draws overflow crowd of angry Alberta farmers in Red Deer

Hundreds of farmers and ranchers upset about Bill 6 gathered in Red Deer today to bring their concerns directly to Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

Hundreds pack into community hall, more gather outside, after yet another protest of farm-safety legislation

After the protest in Red Deer, people gathered by the hundreds at a packed community hall for a town hall meeting with government officials to talk about Bill 6. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Hundreds of farmers and ranchers upset about Bill 6 gathered in Red Deer today to bring their concerns directly to Alberta's Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

However, many more were turned away from the town-hall-style forum because the venue was packed to its capacity.

Dawn Dalueg said she drove two hours from her farm near Galahad, Alta., after signing up to attend the forum on the first day of registration only to be turned away at the door when she arrived.

"Why drive two hours and register and everything else if they're just going to let in everyone off the street?" she said.

Dalueg said it was "very frustrating" to be standing just outside the main forum hall with organizers refusing to even open the doors so she and others could at least hear what was going on.

Many farmers and ranchers worry the changes would prevent kids from pitching in with chores on family farms or participating in 4-H programs. Hours before the protest, Premier Rachel Notley said that wouldn't happen but acknowledged the government's communication about Bill 6 had been lacking. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

The forum took place hours after more than 500 people gathered in Red Deer for another protest against Bill 6. It comes the day after more than 1,000 rallied at the legislature in Edmonton.

Inside the town hall, numerous farmers took turns questioning the agriculture minister on his government's harried plans to change provincial labour laws before the year is out.

The proposed changes would eliminate existing exemptions for farms under occupational health and safety laws, bringing Alberta in line with every other province.

The bill would also mandate farm operators to pay Workers Compensation Board (WCB) premiums for their employees, something that most other provinces do.

Some attendees at the town hall discussion felt the government hasn't been listening to them when it comes to the realities of farm work and farm life. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"There's a lot to digest here and you're asking us to take on faith what you're telling us, even though (Labour) Minister (Lori) Sigurdson has changed her mind at least twice," one man told Carlier to much applause from the crowd.

Earlier in the day, Sigurdson revealed plans to amend Bill 6 to include an "explicit" exemption for family members working on farms, something she claimed was always intended to be included in subsequent regulations but will now be written into the legislation "up front."

"Farmers and ranchers have told us loudly and clearly, and we've been listening, that it's important for us to have this actually in the legislation," Sigurdson said.

John Bystrom, who farms west of Red Deer, said the rollout of Bill 6 has been rushed and confusing.

"Everyone's fearful of being dictated to and being controlled," he said. "It's like they're trying to take our livelihood away from us."

Inside the town hall, Bystrom said there were "lots of questions being asked and none getting answered."

The view from the head table at the town hall, where Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier sits at right. Premier Rachel Notley said earlier in the day her government would listen to farmers' concerns and make amendments to Bill 6 but still intends to pass the legislation before the end of the year. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Carlier, for his part, said he wasn't there to talk but to listen.

He told the crowd their request to delay the legislation came across "loud and clear" and he pledged to bring that message and others he heard at the forum back to the government.

"That, I will assure you," Carlier said.

Earlier in the day, however, Premier Rachel Notley told reporters by conference call from Paris that the government intends to pass Bill 6 in the fall session and not delay its implementation.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier talks about the backlash to the government's farm safety bill. 4:20

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