By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
It has been a busy summer for the ag minister as consultation were underway for new farm safety legislation.
“We’ve put on over 6,000 kms on the truck so far, we’ve talked with nearly 2,000 farmers from nearly every corner of the province, and a reoccurring theme is just ultimately the appreciation of a government going out and actually talking to farmers, where they live, and actually taking the time to go out and consult with them,” said Devin Dreeshen, minister of Agriculture and Forestry for Alberta. “It’s been a really positive, positive experience so far.”
One of Premier Jason Kenney’s election promises was to repeal and replace Bill 6, The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, which had came into effect Jan. 1, 2016 under the previous NDP government. In early July, it was announced that consultations for the Farm Freedom and Safety Act will take place over the summer, along with a survey so residents could express their views over it.
Dreeshen said that when the previous government introduced Bill 6 in 2015, it had created “a mess of farm safety legislation” that they spent the next two years trying to fix.
“It’s not practical, there’s no common sense to it, farmers’ aren’t actually in compliance with it,” said Dreeshen. “The whole process that we’re doing now is consulting with farmers and getting their input into repealing and replacing Bill 6 with a piece of legislation that actually works and that farms can actually be in compliance with.”
Dreenshen has been travelling around Alberta this summer to hear feedback on FFSA, and was in the Iron Springs area earlier this month for one of his stops.
With FFSA, the UCP government is proposing to give farmers farmers the options of getting insurance from either the Worker’s Compensation Board or other suppliers provided that they are getting basic coverage, exempt small farms from employment legislation and reducing red tape and regulatory burdens on farmers and ranchers while ensuring basic safety standards.
Reducing red tape has been a priority for the UCP government, with Kenney even naming Grant Hunter, Taber-Warner MLA, as associate minister of Red Tape Reduction. Dreenshen says it’s more about ensuring common sense, education and promoting a culture of safety on various different types of farms.
“So to make sure there’s a culture of safety ultimately before work gets done, rather than a really prescriptive code of things that can try to capsulate every single type of job on every single type of farm. And so that’s, I think, the common sense approach, of how can you encapsulate common sense in a piece of legislation or regulation?”
Choice in insurance has been a reoccurring theme that Dreenshen says he has heard a lot on, with farmers expressing desire to stick with the private insurance they’ve had before Bill 6 kicked in, as they said it gave them better coverage.
“So many farmers were completely disgusted with Bill 6 and the implementation of it, and everything that went around Bill 6,” said Dreeshen. “It’s easy for us to be able to start fresh, so that’s what we’re doing with these consultations, is actually getting input from farmers directly from a grassroots level, from every corner of the province.”
One thing that he was reassured to hear about was “a board support for a fight-back strategy” across the province.
“Farmers want to actually have the heat story that we have here in Alberta in our modern ag sector to actually be promoted and defended,” said Dreenshen. “Whether it’s the Weather Network or the United Nations reports that attack our livestock industry, it’s something that farmers, they know here in Alberta that they have a great story to tell when it comes to sustainable beef or just the great genetics that we use here on our crops. It’s something that they’re frustrated, when they also seemed to be getting attacked.
“Part of the fight-back strategy is to have a promotion aspect to it as well, because it’s more of a storytelling, of how great our modern ag sector is. So it’s not so much as adversarial as we’re attacking people that attack the industry, but it’s being positive and telling the good news story that we have in agricultural here in Alberta.”
Bill 6 is still in force, and the UCP plan on repealing and replacing it with FFSA in the fall sitting of legislature.
For more information on FFSA and to take the survey, visit https://www.alberta.ca/farm-freedom-and-safety-engagement.aspx.