It is wise to see and admit a mistake and try to correct it, but sometimes the mistakes inflict much too damage that might prove impossible to undo.
Whether provincial government’s Bill 6, in its initial form, will turn out to be that kind of a mistake, only time will tell; but one thing is certain for anybody to bet their boots on: Wildrose and, if they can, Progressive Conservatives will try to milk this cow until the voting day in the next provincial election.
Rachel Notley’s NDP government has been apologetic ever since the uproar by the farmers and ranchers made the leadership of the governing party realize the impropriety of the unnecessarily hasty steps to legislate in a highly sensitive area of provincial politics.
Not only have both ministers, Minister of Jobs, Skills and Training, the main architect of the botched legislative draft and Minister of Agriculture made statements expressing regret for having taken a wrong step, but Premier Notley herself appealed to all farmer communities in an open letter to be patient until the amendments could be introduced to Bill 6.
And the amendments, as announced last Monday, seem to be far reaching enough to satisfy the main concerns of the farmer and rancher communities.
According to the statements by Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, and Oneil Carlier, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, the amendments will make sure that owners of farms and ranches and their family members, as long as they choose to do so, will be exempt from Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations and Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) coverage. Put simply, the requirements for regulatory coverage under the new shape of Bill 6 will be only for those individuals who work on the farm in return for a wage. Given this clarification, neither 4-H activities will be curtailed, nor children or neighbours or friends helping with farm work will come under the protection of the worker-designated regulations.
Given that Alberta is still the only province in the country without legislation protecting agricultural workers, the need for regulatory arrangements to protect the rights of employees working on farms is obvious.
And this is agreed by most of the stakeholders.
But Wildrose seems to be dissatisfied with the changes. After the announcement of the amendments, Wildrose MLA for Rimbey–Rocky Mountain House–Sundre riding Jason Nixon said more consultation was needed before any legislation on the matter and he called on the government to either kill Bill 6 or send it to legislative committees for review.
It is quite apparent that opposition parties will not stop attacking the government over Bill 6 until they have made enough political capital out of the first major blunder of the NDP.
It will be interesting to see how Mrs. Notley and her government will weather this storm: Will they resort to reefing, lowering their sails to reduce the speed of their boat or will they use tacking or jibing maneuvers without cutting down on speed to swerve through the waves to leave the storm behind and reach quieter seas?
The difference between the two might be as big as jeopardizing the next provincial election even before completing one year in office and laying the groundwork for a political force propelled to power by an urban thrust for a deeper understanding with a rural constituency it should not antagonize.