Bill 6 will pass, but Alberta government says it will be amended

Michelle Bellefontaine, CBC News Posted: Dec 01, 2015 10:20 AM MTLast Updated: Dec 01, 2015 5:06 PM MT

A protester holds a sign at a rally protesting Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.

A protester holds a sign at a rally protesting Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. (CBC)

Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson says the government will introduce an amendment to Bill 6 stating that farm and ranch safety rules will apply only to paid workers.

The amendment specifies that mandatory Workers Compensation Board coverage will only apply to workers earning a wage. As well, occupational health and safety rules will only apply to operations that employ one or more workers at any time of the year.

The minister claims the government always intended for family members to be exempt from the contentious farm safety law, but the exemption was to be written into regulations coming in 2017.

However, when the legislation was first introduced, ministry officials said occupational health and safety rules would apply to everyone — paid or unpaid.

Now it will be made explicit that they will only apply to paid workers.

“Farmers and ranchers have told us loudly and clearly, and we’ve been listening, that it’s important for us to have this actually in the legislation,” Sigurdson said. “They said, ‘Hey, we want this up front, we want this in writing,’ so we said OK.”

Sigurdson’s comments came one day after more than 1,000 farmers and ranchers held a protest on the steps of the Alberta legislature.

Bill 6 proposes to introduce a range of new safety regulations on farms and ranches. It will also make Worker’s Compensation Board coverage mandatory.

Farmers and ranchers are concerned the new rules will prevent their children from helping out with family chores and make it impossible for neighbours to help with activities like harvesting and calving.

They have called for the government to exempt small family farms.

Premier Rachel Notley said the government intends to pass Bill 6 in the fall session and won’t delay implementation.

However, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the government needs to kill the bill, and properly consult with farmers and ranchers first. Jean said adding an amendment shows the government got it wrong in the first place.

“The number one amendment I would like to see is to stop right now, not pass this bill, not force it through the legislature,” he said. “And take a break, take a step back and listen to Alberta farmers and ranchers.”

The government has admitted communication on the bill has been mishandled. While Sigurdson said she takes responsibility for the botched message, both she and Notley are blaming government officials for giving out wrong information about the bill at a town hall meeting in Grande Prairie last week.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver said Notley is throwing bureaucrats under the bus.

“That is a far cry from the level of responsibility Albertans should get from their premier,” he said.

Notley said the bill does not prohibit children from working on family farms, as critics have suggested. Nor will it prevent children from taking part in 4H activities.

“Their kids will continue to be able to work on the farm as they always have,” Notley said in a conference call from Paris, where she is attending the COP21 conference. “And they will continue to be educated on the farm through 4H programs as they always have.”

Notley also discussed her activities while in Paris for COP21, where she said Alberta’s new message on climate change was heard.

The government announced Alberta has been accepted as a member of the Climate Group’s States and Regions Alliance.

The group is made up of 31 subnational regions across the world.