By Stan Ashbee
Sunny South News
Many Alberta farmers are somewhat disgruntled and a tad bit flabbergasted with the recent passing of Bill 6 by the Alberta government without public consultation and/or at the very least taking farmers’ concerns into consideration. Little Bow Wildrose MLA David Schneider can’t believe it either.
“I think it’s clear rural Alberta has made pretty much of a statement they don’t agree with Bill 6 or what’s within Bill 6 — mostly, which we don’t know. Being forced to one type of insurance, Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB), I think there are a lot of farms that have the equivalent or better insurance — that’s the e-mails I’m getting and the phone calls. They want a choice,” said Schneider.
Having Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) basically being rammed down a farmer’s throat, Schneider noted, isn’t fair to the farmers that don’t understand a lot about OHS.
“All of a sudden, the greatest unknown is fear and people are getting excited because nobody is telling them what this is going to be. The government’s telling them we’ll write this with the help from you in the coming months and years and farmers are telling us they don’t trust the government. If they can’t tell them what’s going to be in the bill, they don’t want the bill,” he added.
Schneider said he has been moving forward with information he has received from the farm community in his riding and across the province. He explained third reading was passed by the Alberta NDPs and the Wildrose begged the government to take even six months to slow things down prior to passing the bill into law in 2016.
“Probably, they should consult with somebody because those consultation meetings were not consultation meetings, they were barely information meetings. I was asked to attend the one in Bassano and the Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier was there.”
But, Schneider said, there was nothing. “He would say nothing. It was very frustrating for the people that came looking for answers. They left with absolutely nothing.”
When Carlier was asked if he would stand up and vote against the bill on behalf of agriculture in Alberta, Schneider noted, the ag minister said he wouldn’t do that because he believes in the bill.
“This is the kind of thing we’ve been hearing. People that go to town hall meetings that are organized by someone other than the NDP MLA for the region, those farmers are saying exactly the same stories. I get e-mails from people all over the province saying my MLA will not return my call or my e-mail — will you stand up for me? That’s the kind of frustration that’s out there. It’s tremendous,” said Schneider.
Schneider said he joins with the farmers across the province and doesn’t understand why the Alberta government is forcing this bill on without talking to farmers and those opposed to the bill.
“The segment of the population has now been zeroed out and you’re going to take the brunt of the next NDP decision — not good.”
Schneider also believes every farmer agrees safety is very important on every farm.
“That’s where it should have stopped and then the discussion continued after that was in place. That’s an opinion I have. If the government felt they needed to see safety was being implemented on farms across Alberta — yes, that’s where they should have started and there should have been a discussion about that,” he said.
A lot of e-mails Schneider has received from farmers indicate many farmers have a better coverage plan than WCB can possibly provide and for less money.
“I have to believe that’s the truth, that’s the stuff I’m being told from the people. There’s no question farm safety is the most important thing, it’s just gone a little too far. That’s what’s got everybody stirred up,” Schneider said.
One of the amendments the NDPs brought forward, Schneider explained, was certainly good for the family farm.
“The farm owners, and generally speaking it’s the mother and father, and the children and I think it included relatives,” he said.
“They can come help on the farm and there won’t be any of the legislation that they are talking about that will apply.”
But, Schneider added, as soon as a farmer hires someone outside of relatives — it brings on the whole gamut.
“That’s the issue farmers are having. It’s not only WCB, it’s Employment Standards, it’s Labour Relations and OHS.”
Bigger farms, Schneider said, are most likely already paying properly for help and carry good insurance.
“But, the small family farm, they only get somebody for harvest or to help with the cows or when they are seeding. They don’t understand all this stuff. It creates fear and that’s what creates what’s been going on,” he noted.
The Alberta government, Schneider said, has been stating Bill 6 will become law on Jan. 1, 2016.
“When we asked questions, we got no answers anymore than farmers did at consultation meetings,” he said, adding both the Wildrose and the Conservatives on the opposition side of the house at the Alberta Legislature were getting the same information during Bill 6 debate.
Right now, Schneider said, there’s a lot of fear from the farmers. “This wasn’t the Wildrose Party trying to whip up a frenzy. The frenzy created itself because of the unknown and the NDP government that refused to give anybody any information. I think they really may have gone about this the wrong way. I guess we’ll see how it all pans out. I hope it works out best for those that it’s affecting,” he said.