Edmonton

Alberta NDP's farm safety bill facing growing backlash in rural communities

Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson says the province may extend the consultation period on the contentious Farm Safety Act, a bill which is generating growing backlash in rural Alberta.

Critics say bill could make it illegal for children to help with chores on family farms

Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson introduced Bill 6 last week. (CBC)

Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson says the province may extend the consultation period on the contentious Farm Safety Act, a bill which is generating a growing backlash in rural Alberta. 

The province has already added more town halls in December but all but one are fully booked.

Sigurdson said Thursday she is open to extending that period past mid-December.

"Yes, we can expand it," she said in response to a reporter's question. "We may have more consultations in the new year."

Wildrose MLA Jason Nixon said those sessions will come too late if the government passes the bill during the current sitting of the legislature.

Opposition MLA getting hundreds of calls

The MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre said his office is getting hundreds of calls from people angry about the changes.

"We need to know how this affects 4H with our kids, to how our communities interact on simple things like branding cows," Nixon said. "To say you're going to consult with us after you put through the legislation is completely inappropriate."

The NDP government has been hammered on Bill 6 ever since it was released last week.

The proposed legislation aims to subject farms and ranches to workplace safety rules and would make it mandatory for them to have worker's compensation coverage by Jan. 1.

People in the sector worry the bill will make it illegal for children to help with chores on family farms. Those concerns are behind an online petition which has more than 10,000 signatures.

Sigurdson said the law doesn't do that. The issue of child labour will be discussed during the year-long consultation on new occupational health and safety rules, set to come into effect in January 2017, she said.

Backlash expected

As for the online petition, Sigurdson said she was pleased people are so engaged.

"I think that's a good thing. I think that perhaps some misinformation has gone out there and we're really developing this with them," she said.

"I'm so glad that many people are involved and that they will hopefully be giving us feedback."

However, opposition politicians say the government is moving too fast. They want the bill put on hold.

"They've got the cart way ahead of the horse," said Progressive Conservative party interim leader Ric McIver.  "They've got to slow down and talk to people."

Liberal leader David Swann said he sees it differently. He has no problem with how the government is handling the bill and says the backlash comes as no surprise.

"One would expect that after having no standards on these large industrial workplaces for 100 years," he said.

"There is going to be resistance but there is going to be a very thoughtful and timed approach. I have no problems with they way they are proceeding."

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