Science may have a say in the Bill 6 dispute

The way tempers have flared among the farming communities and the refusal of the NDP government to back down on the matter of Bill 6...

The way tempers have flared among the farming communities and the refusal of the NDP government to back down on the matter of Bill 6 seem to be pointing to a politically hot winter and even spring in the weeks and months ahead, with a potential to lead to serious instability in the province.

After announcing the amendments to Bill 6, which apparently were thought by the government enough to ease the concerns of the agricultural sector, the NDP majority in the provincial legislature voted to pass Bill 6 into law last week, prompting further fiery protests from both Wildrose Party and farmers. There have been protest rallies in many towns and along the highways with calls for NDP government to step down.

The anger over the passage of Bill 6 into law has gone to such lengths that there have been threats against the lives Premier Rachel Notley and leading NDP politicians, forcing main opposition Wildrose Party’s leader Brian Jean to appeal to his supporters and objectors to the legislation to stop threatening violence. “These kinds of comments cross all bounds of respect and decency and have absolutely no place in our political discourse,” he said in a Facebook message.

It goes without saying that the extreme militancy of the reaction on the part of the hot-headed opposition supporters to the adoption of Bill 6 at the provincial legislature is disturbing to put it mildly. But it also raises some deeper concerns, as well, and those concerns relate to the fundamentals of the democratic governance in the province of Alberta.

Looking at the unfolding situation from a long-term perspective, one can easily note that the source of the conflict is a piece of legislation impacting an area that has never been touched by the 44-year-long Progressive Conservative political dynasty.

Having ruled the province for so long, the PC governments may have perceived the farm safety and farm labor regulation issues as matters that would best be left untouched and as a result farming communities may have developed an understanding that those areas are destined to remain outside the jurisdiction of provincial governments and legislation.

But having won the election on a pro-labour platform, NDP has apparently decided that Alberta should be brought on a par with all the other provinces and territories of the country when it comes to ensuring the safety and rights of farm workers.

At this point, it seems necessary to determine how much of the concerns of the farming communities are justified and how much of them are exaggerated as a result of misperceptions. One document protesting Bill 6 and making its rounds on the Internet asks “how and if the family farm way of life is a viable one for us.”

To say that Bill 6 threatens a whole way of life in this province seems to be a little too alarmist.

For a healthy discussion on the matter, it seems all stakeholders should make an effort to ensure that first and foremost cool heads prevail and provocative language is avoided and for this to happen, politics should be stripped of the debate on the real content.

If the government wants to regulate labour practices in an industry where 112 lives were lost over the last six years, then this regulation is clearly necessary to prevent further loss of life and to ensure that if there is loss of life, regulations are in place to protect those who are left behind.

At this juncture, it might be a good idea to involve academia in the discussion to bring an educated analysis and suggest possible solutions to the conflict. We have ample sources of research, knowledge and expertise in the universities and in a hotly debated, highly political and controversial dispute, science may well be the best guide to show the parties the right path to choose.

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