Ponoka was the latest stop on a tour designed to draw out issues, ideas and suggestions on what should be different about the rules surrounding farm operations.
Agriculture and Forestry minister Devin Dreeshen, along with Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, were at the Calnash Ag Event Centre on Aug. 8 to listen and answer questions from the dozen or so farmers and agri-business owners.
A round-table discussion elicited pretty much what was expected — calls for more common sense, less regulation, more flexibility on insurance and changing rules around farm use of large semi-trucks.
With consultations having hit the halfway point, Dreeshen feels all of the talks to date have been positive.
“Farmers really appreciate being listened to and they have been really engaged,” he said, prior to leaving for a tour stop in Olds.
“We have had lots of discussion on occupational health and safety and labour relations. If you want to go out to hear from farmers and ranchers, they’ll come out and open up about what’s practical and what’s common sense.”
Ultimately, Dreeshen has overwhelmingly heard that Bill 6 — enacted in 2015 — doesn’t work for many, but that the majority of topics heard are similar to what’s been talked about the past four years.
“There have been some new ideas and every stop has been a bit different. Though, a common thread has been the need for an education component,” Dreeshen said.
“They want to make sure that whatever piece of legislation comes out at the end of the day, that there is a common sense education, proactive approach. This is how best to teach farmers, workers and family members how to farm safely.”
For Dreeshen, that’s why the government is going through this consultative process.
“We want to talk to them first, legislate second,” he added.
However, there was one subject that was top of mind at every meeting held and one Dreeshen can understand why it is a big concern.
“Having a choice of insurance is something we have heard everywhere. Farmers would have WCB (Workers Compensation Board) coverage because they were forced to, but they would also have their own private insurance,” he said.
“They would keep it and use it because it would cover workers off the job site, the private insurance would pay out better, was more responsive and they were used to it. A lot ended up with two different insurance programs and two premiums. Being able to choose between WCB or private insurance is something farmers want.”
Another issue at the forefront in Ponoka was plans to restructure the driving classification for farmers and their large semi-tractor units.
Dreeshen explained that the transportation minister has simply punted that issue down the field until sometime next year as there isn’t time to properly review it at the moment.
“That said, it will be a priority,” he told the audience during the question and answer session.
“What we have heard through these consultations is that we need to have some type of farmer class one. A couple of other provinces have legislation and that’s something we need to look at with our other departments.”
According to Dreeshen, his ministry needs to take the lead on this issue and come up with a common sense solution for farmers that only drive these units a couple of weeks in the year. He added that his hope is a unique, farmer classification can be brought forward as the current situation isn’t practical.
As for Orr, he feels this visit was extremely valuable as the minister got to hear directly from many local agricultural sector industries as well as individual farmers.
“What we heard here is confirmation of what we have been hearing all along. The challenge now will be to write this into an effective and common sense legislation,” he said.
The consultations will continue around the province until the end of the month, when the government plans to pour over what’s been heard then develop new legislation with Dreeshen stating the new bill will be introduced in the legislature before the end of this year.