Several hundred farmers converged on the Calnash Ag Event Centre over the weekend to protest the advancement of Bill 6.
A convoy of vehicles and tractors drove to the ag centre Saturday, Dec. 12 with large banners stating “Stand up for Alberta” on the back of pickup trucks. The rally was in protest to Bill 6, The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, which became law Dec. 11.
Hearing questions were three MLAs, Lacombe-Ponoka’s Ron Orr, Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre’s Jason Nixon and Innisfail-Sylvan Lake’s Don McIntyre. Also on the dais was a man by the name of George Clark, who started a campaign called “Albertans First.”
All four provided some comments and then listened to questions from attendees, some of whom have travelled to other rallies in central Alberta. Orr started by saying recent protests by farmers have helped create one of the largest campaigns in Alberta’s history, mainly due to the lack of consultation on the part of the government.
He added that those protests helped add several important amendments to Bill 6.
Those changes include family members, owners and friends who volunteer to help being excluded from Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), only non-owner or non-family waged individuals being required to have coverage; if waged individuals are owners or family members of owners they will be exempt from the safety regulations, however, farm and ranch families may elect to choose WCB coverage.
Following death threats against Premier Rachel Notley and other NDP MLAs, Orr urged attendees not to use violence or threatening language. He suggested those actions would do more harm to their goals. “That would play, quite frankly, into the hands of the social mindset.”
While Bill 6 has passed, Orr added that it would take some time to draw up regulations that should work for the industry and Orr said farmers must keep up the pressure on the government to ensure their rights are considered.
Several questions were put forward to the MLAs. One from Dan Skeels related to educating the urban population of the rural farmer’s concern with the bill. He worried if this new bill will affect his property rights.
Nixon replied that he feels there is support from some cities. “The people in Calgary are with us in a big way.”
“Edmonton’s more 50/50 according to the polls we get,” he added.
One attendee appeared to blame the NDP for the loss of oil and gas jobs in Alberta. John Satink, who has travelled to several rallies, was clear on his thoughts.
“The only way to get them to understand is that the NDP is not welcome in this province after all that they have done,” said Satink.
Withholding taxes was one suggested form of protest. Stan Woodberg suggested the only way to get the province to notice is by putting taxes in an escrow account. He added that if the OHS staff came onto his property, it may be a bad idea for them.
“It probably wouldn’t be good if they come to my house because I’m going to grab something and I’m going to crack them across the head with it,” added Woodberg.
Concerns of OHS or WCB legislation
How OHS and WCB legislation will affect farmers was a common concern during the evening.
Statements from attendees showed fear in the unknown as there is yet to be regulations drafted for Bill 6.
“A lot of the realities there are truly unknown because they don’t have the legislation,” said Orr.
He added that he has been speaking with OHS policy makers who are saying legislation will be made suitable for the farm industry. Many regulations in the energy industry are written by the companies themselves and Orr suggests one solution for farmers would be to create templates of safety regulations. “Don’t panic before we get there.”
Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA McIntyre was clear on his thoughts of the provincial government. “Bureaucracy will get bigger under a socialist government.”
He suggests the NDP government is more socialist in its values, which goes against a democratic system.
“They see private ownership of farmland as being inefficient in use. They see capitalism as being a bad thing. They see profit as being evil. ‘How dare you make a profit.’ But they fail to understand that’s how you get your wages paid and that’s how taxes get paid,” said McIntyre.
He suggests the Bill 6 legislation is a red herring aimed at distracting people from another agenda. “This thing is about unionization of farm workers across the province.”
The MLAs also appealed to attendees to continue their peaceful protests to get the proper farm safety legislation needed for the industry. Also at the rally were two petitions signed by participants, one against Bill 6 and the other against the proposed carbon tax.