Agri­cul­ture min­is­ter dis­cusses re­plac­ing Bill 6 with lo­cal ag reps

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - FALL AUCTION GUIDE - By Tim Kalinowski South­ern Al­berta News­pa­pers

Al­berta Agri­cul­ture and Forestry Min­is­ter Devin Dreeshen vis­ited Leth­bridge on Aug. 28 to take part in his 21st Farm Free­dom and Safety Act con­sul­ta­tion ses­sion of the sum­mer.

About 30 lo­cal agri­cul­ture rep­re­sen­ta­tives and farm­ers took part in the dis­cus­sion to gen­er­ate ideas about what should be in­cor­po­rated in the act, which should be in­tro­duced to re­place Bill 6 in this fall’s sit­ting of the leg­is­la­ture.

Dreeshen ad­mit­ted likely what will come out of this se­ries of con­sul­ta­tions would be quite sim­i­lar to what the UCP has al­ready pro­posed dur­ing the last elec­tion cam­paign – with farm­ers be­ing re­quired to carry in­sur­ance which would cover their em­ploy­ees, but hav­ing a choice be­tween WCB cov­er­age and pri­vate in­sur­ance op­tions.

“We did cam­paign on cer­tain things,” he said, “like hav­ing a choice in in­sur­ance or hav­ing three-farmem­ployee (OHS) ex­emp­tion, but that didn’t come from a vac­uum. It came from con­sult­ing with farm­ers. We are now go­ing out and con­sult­ing farm­ers, and the fact some of the same themes are re­oc­cur­ring isn’t a sur­prise.”

Dreeshen said con­sen­sus around in­sur­ance choice was some­thing easy to come by, with most farm­ers he has spo­ken to in agree­ment on the is­sue, but he ad­mit­ted con­sen­sus around OHS ex­emp­tions was a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to build with some farm­ers want­ing it ex­panded to five em­ploy­ees or less and oth­ers feel­ing there should be no ex­emp­tions for farms with paid em­ploy­ees at all. The gov­ern­ment was still try­ing to sift through that one, Dreeshen ad­mit­ted.

“Some­thing we are look­ing at is should there be a three- or five-em­ployee limit that would al­low for an ex­emp­tion, but we have also heard from farm­ers that say why should we have any num­ber?” he said. “Why have an ex­emp­tion? There is (that dis­cus­sion) in th­ese con­sul­ta­tions where we are try­ing to build a con­sen­sus of what ex­actly it will look like.”

Dreeshen said the gov­ern­ment would also likely be putting re­sources to­ward in­creased farm safety aware­ness for farm­ers and other mem­bers of the ag in­dus­try.

“I think there gets to be a mis­con­cep­tion that some­how farm­ers are putting their kids in work­place sit­u­a­tions that are un­safe,” said Dreeshen.

“And I think by and large, on any farm I have seen, they want to make sure whether it’s their son or daugh­ter, cousin, niece or nephew – or long­time farm worker they have had for years- they want to make sure that per­son goes home safe at the end of the day. That is some­thing where we are work­ing with farm­ers, with ranch­ers and work­ers as well, to say, ‘let’s have a com­mon-sense, proac­tive ed­u­ca­tion com­po­nent that can be there be­fore an ac­ci­dent or an in­ci­dent ever hap­pens.’ How can we bet­ter ed­u­cate a cul­ture of safety on farms here in Al­berta that could ul­ti­mately pre­vent any type of work­place ac­ci­dent on a farm?”

At the end of the day, Dreeshen said the NDP’s Bill 6 was too pre­scrip­tive and nearly im­pos­si­ble for any farm to im­ple­ment to the de­gree that law re­quired. The gov­ern­ment’s Farm Free­dom and Safety Act, he said, would al­low greater flex­i­bil­ity to ac­count for each farm’s in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances, rather than tak­ing a cookie-cut­ter ap­proach.

“Af­ter Bill 6 was passed, there were seven work­ing groups that over the course of two or so years tried to im­prove cer­tain as­pects of Bill 6 to make it work,” he stated. “But, at the end of the day, it is still a piece of flawed leg­is­la­tion farm­ers can’t be in com­pli­ance with, and a piece of leg­is­la­tion that doesn’t work for farms. Bill 6 never had a ghost of a chance of any­one be­ing in com­pli­ance with. It was just a bad piece of leg­is­la­tion.”

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