Rural Alberta is up in arms over the recently introduced Bill 6 aimed at enacting legislation to ensure farm and ranch workers’ rights to protection.
Alberta is the only province in the country without a law securing farm workers’ rights and eligibility to protection; as a left-leaning, pro-labor government, it is natural for the government of Rachel Notley to want to pass legislation protecting workers.
What is not natural, and probably not clever or pertinent, is the way the Bill was introduced and had its first reading swiftly approved, sending panic waves among the farming communities throughout the province.
Ever since the first reading was passed on Nov. 17, there has been a growing wave of reaction from opposition parties, farmers’ organizations, individual farmers and municipalities, with many of them sending busloads of protesting farmers to Edmonton to make their voices heard at the doors of the Provincial Legislature.
It looks like after her apparently quite successful bid to bring together various seemingly irreconcilable stakeholders of the energy industry in the province, Premier Rachel Notley’s government seems to have overlooked the importance of communicating with the key elements of Alberta’s second most important economic sector.
Opposition critic on agriculture, Wildrose MLA Rick Strankman, along with other opposition MPs, has been writing columns and opinion pieces blaming the government for “putting the cart before the horse” with a strong emphasis on the lack of consultation on the part of the government with farmers and farmer organizations and agricultural associations.
The reaction has clearly been noticed and the government suspended the second reading of the law at the Legislature on Nov. 25, announced town hall meetings to consult with farmers and farmer organizations and the Minister of jobs, Skills, Training and Labor Lori Sigurdson has had to issue a statement to clarify that 4-H activities were in no way being jeopardized, the kids’ lifestyle in the farm was not to change and there would be enough flexibility in designing the regulations to satisfy farmers’ concerns before implementation.
Just as the Bill 6 controversy was making waves around communities, the government then announced Bill 8, making clear that the provincial government would now be part of the bargaining process, which engages the school boards across the province with teachers’ union.
Alberta School Boards Association reacted strongly saying this new legislation would restrict their ability to negotiate salaries raises with teachers; and teachers, despite having campaigned for years for government to take a seat at the table in what is called a “two-tier bargaining process”, still said they would like to see more details and most importantly, criticized the government for giving too short a notice for the legislative process to start and be concluded.
What appears to be the common concern in both legislative initiatives is the rush on the part of the government to have the legislation passed and implemented without adequate consultation with the stakeholders.
Regarding Bill 6, almost everybody agrees that there should be legislation to ensure the safety of farm and ranch workers. What is opposed is the lack of consultation and the hurry surrounding it. As for Bill 8, again the lack of prior consultation with the relevant parties seems to have spurred criticism.
It is understandable for the NDP government to try and quickly pass legislation to respond to the needs of its voter base so that their support will continue when the time comes for the next election.
However, without communicating its intentions properly to all stakeholders may be working against what the government is trying to do. They will be well advised to remember that poor communications (Albertans should look in the mirror) brought the downfall of the 44-year-old PC dynasty in the province.