Concerns are being raised that the new farm safety act, introduced in provincial legislature last week, will add mountains of red tape, deplete farmers’ financial resources.
Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was introduced by the NDP government on Nov. 17. The act, if it passes into law, would see farms and ranches subject to Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) legislation, require farm and ranch owners to provide Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) insurance for their employees and themselves, and would see farm and ranches be accountable to employment standards and labour relations legislation.
Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman, the agriculture critic for the opposition Wildrose Party, echoed the disappointment otherwise expressed by his colleagues about the lack of public consultation with the agricultural stakeholders across the province.
Strankman said that the manner in which the bill was proposed “has the appearance of making up rules on the fly,” and there are concerns the party is “legislating first and consulting later.”
“(The bill) is going to be excessively onerous to farmers, I think” Strankman said. “We need to continue to educate, not legislate, toward the potential safety issues. Farmers need to be continually educated on all aspects of the agricultural arena.”
That doesn’t mean Strankman is against the concept. Alberta is currently the only Canadian province without an ag safety bill.
To the east, Saskatchewan has had farm safety bills for roughly three decades. British Columbia to the west also has similar legislation.
He said it wasn’t very practical for the small family farmer, whose office was often the kitchen table, to have to complete and keep the necessary paperwork.
He said he is optimistic that legislature, if crafted properly, would help and not hinder Albertan farmers and ranchers, but early review of Bill 6 has him concerned that the bill is heavy on punitive actions and added bureaucracy rather than education.
The measures laid out in Bill 6 “may be offensive to the small family farmer,” Strankman noted, adding that the larger farming operations, like large feedlots, chicken and hog operations are already voluntarily working with OH&S and WCB, since it makes sense to protect themselves using the legislated standards.
Under the legislation, he’s not sure how the regulations will play out, either positively or negatively, for children, and that requires more study.
The Wildrose Party is hoping the bill will now go to committee where it can be studied and ammendments recommended.
“We want to debate it at length,” he said. “If we do get to go to committee and provide ammendments, then the government can be held to task.”