Bill 6 focus of evening session at Alberta legislature

As protests continue throughout the province, the NDP’s controversial farm safety bill will be debated at the Alberta legislature Wednesday evening.

Farmers and ranchers have planned another protest to follow up one held earlier this week

More than a 1,000 people opposed to Bill 6 attended a rally at the Alberta legislature Monday. Another protest is planned at the legislature on Thursday. (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

As protests continue throughout the province, the NDP's controversial farm safety bill was debated Wednesday evening at the Alberta legislature.

The first speaker to rise was Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann, who called Bill 6 one of the most important pieces of legislation of the fall session.

"I'm pleased to see the leadership taken by this new government," he said. "Leadership that was decidedly absent by the last government."

Swann said the idea of extending workplace safety standards and workers' compensation benefits to farm workers, the centrepieces of Bill 6, have received wide support in the international community, including from the United Nations.

He said without Bill 6, Alberta would be stuck in the 19th century when it comes to safety standards on farms and ranches.

Earlier in the day, Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier were at a town hall in Okotoks.

The day before, Carlier and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee faced hundreds of angry farmers and ranchers at a meeting in Red Deer.

Tempers flared in question period Wednesday, when interim Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver said people were "kicked out" of the Red Deer meeting because there wasn't enough space. ​

Larivee snapped back that she made a point to talk to everyone. 

"I went outside and stood on a bench for two and a half hours to listen to those farmers, to give them an apology for the miscommunication, and to share with them our commitment to moving an amendment forward to ensure that farm families will not be covered by that bill," she said. 

"We listened to every person that went there, and I'm very proud of the action we took in making that happen."

Farmers and ranchers opposed to Bill 6 have planned another protest on the steps on the legislature, three days after more than 1,000 participated in a similar protest.

Bill 6 is currently in second reading. NDP House Leader Brian Mason said amendments will be introduced once the bill moves into committee of the whole.

The amendments will state that WCB coverage and occupational health and safety rules will not apply to family members, only to paid farm workers.

"And I'm hopeful that this will defuse this situation," Mason said.

Sigurdson insists the government always intended to exempt family members from WCB coverage.

However, a WCB Alberta document that was online until Wednesday states that coverage applies to everyone — workers, family members and children.

While hundreds of producers have been angered by the bill, Stuart Somerville, who runs a cattle and grain farm near Red Deer, said he has no problem with the legislation.

"I think the bill itself is not bad," he said. "It's something we've probably been needing in a lot of ways for a while."

But he said the way the government rolled out the bill left many people with questions about the details.