Tag Archives: Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act

Put some Alberta Politics under the Christmas tree

Looking for that special gift for the political junkie in your family? Or maybe you’re searching for a good book to read by an open fire on a cold winter night? If so, here are a few Alberta politics books that might look good under your Christmas tree this year:

Where the Bodies Lie

Mark Lisac
NeWest Press
$20.95 at Audreys Books

An enjoyable mix of politics and intrigue make this fictional murder mystery a must-read for political watchers in Alberta. “Lisac’s backdrop may be the political scene, but his story is in the heart of his main characters, their flaws and aspirations. He is an elegant and efficient writer and sets lovely scenes and characters, creating a murder mystery with twists and engaging characters,” wrote Samantha Power in Vue Weekly.

 

Notley Nation: How Alberta’s Political Upheaval Swept the Country

Sydney Sharpe and Don Braid
Dundurn Press
$19.99 at Audreys Books

Calgary author Sydney Sharpe and Postmedia columnist Don Braid look at how decades of one-party rule, right-wing discontent and a growing progressive streak in Alberta led to the election of Rachel Notley’s NDP in our province’s historic 2015 election.

 

Farm Workers in Western Canada: Injustices and Activism

Editors: Shirley McDonald, Bob Barnetson
University of Alberta Press
$29.95 at Audreys Books (by special order)

This book was launched today, so I have not yet had a chance to read it. Here is the description from U of A Press:

Bill 6, the government of Alberta’s contentious farm workers’ safety legislation, sparked public debate as no other legislation has done in recent years. The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act provides a right to work safely and a compensation system for those killed or injured at work, similar to other provinces.

In nine essays, contributors to Farm Workers in Western Canada place this legislation in context. They look at the origins, work conditions, and precarious lives of farm workers in terms of larger historical forces such as colonialism, land rights, and racism. They also examine how the rights and privileges of farm workers, including seasonal and temporary foreign workers, conflict with those of their employers, and reveal the barriers many face by being excluded from most statutory employment laws, sometimes in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 

Grant Notley: The Social Conscience of Alberta

Howard Leeson
University of Alberta Press
$24.95 at Audreys Books

Written by his former executive assistant, this biography provides a look into the compelling life story of Grant Notley, the father of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, who led the NDP from 1968 until his death in 1984. His passion for our province and social democratic politics is a refreshing reminder of a level of respect that used to exist among political opponents and adversaries in our province.

 

Thin Power
Andy Marshall
Friesen Press
$16.99

Thin Power is the unauthorized biography of former mayor of Calgary, Rod Sykes, featuring the achievements and bitter controversies of his eight-year term ending in 1977. David Climenhaga wrote a review of the book over at AlbertaPolitics.ca.

 

The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil

Larry Pratt
Hurtig Press

Hard to find but worth the read, this 1976 book provides a thorough background background to the politics and economics that led to the creation of the Syncrude project and development of the Athabasca oil sands. A review by ActiveHistory.ca describes the book as an essential text on the history of Alberta’s tar sands. Used copies can be found on amazon.com.

And from south of the border:

Whistlestop

John Dickerson
Hachette Book Group
$39.00 at Audreys Books (by special order)

A compendium of John Dickerson’s favourite moments from US Presidential election history. The host of Face the Nation on CBS News and columnist for Slate Magazine does an excellent job translating stories from his popular Whistlestop podcast into this fun to read political history book.

 

(This post was inspired by Stephen Maher’s piece over at iPolitics.ca

Rachel Notley might not receive the same warm welcome that awaited Communist leader Tim Buck when he visited the coal town of Nordegg, Alberta in April 1935, but that shouldn't stop her from visiting the communities impacted by the government's coal phase-out plans.

Notley owes Alberta’s Coal Communities an in-person visit

Mr. Jean: Thank you. The NDP has found time to fly to Paris, to Morocco, but they haven’t found time to visit communities like Hanna and Parkland county. They haven’t taken the time to look in the faces of the people who are now losing hope because this government does not have their backs. I can understand the Premier’s hesitation given that whenever the NDP stands in front of rural communities they get booed, but will the Premier commit to personally attending public meetings in towns like Hanna, Grande Cache, and Forestburg to see the damage her policies are having on people’s lives? Yes or no?

The Speaker: The hon. Premier. 

Ms Notley: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. As the member opposite knows, our government has appointed a panel to look into the matter of how we can orchestrate a just transition, a fair transition as the province moves off coal at an accelerated level beginning in 2030. That panel has been established. It has begun its work, and it will be travelling to all those communities very early in the new year.

Mr. Jean: That must be a no, Mr. Speaker.

The above is an exchange between Official Opposition leader Brian Jean and Premier Rachel Notley that took place during Question Period in the Alberta Legislative Assembly on the afternoon of November 22, 2016.

Rachel Notley Alberta NDP leader

Rachel Notley

The flagship of the NDP government’s policy agenda is its Climate Leadership Plan, a broad plan announced in November 2015 to address climate change in our province. A key element of the Climate Leadership Plan is the phasing-out of Alberta’s coal-fired electricity generation plants by 2030. The coal-fired plants are a significant source of carbon emissions and air pollution in our province.

Addressing climate change needs to be a priority and I am proud that the Alberta government has finally taken action on this file after a decade of foot-dragging by previous Conservative governments. But as it moves forward, the government also bears a responsibility to help communities like Hanna, Forestburg and Parkland County, where residents will be directly impacted by the closing of the coal plants.

Brian Jean Wildrose

Brian Jean

A government-appointed advisory panel has been tasked with studying and consulting with the impacted communities. While I have no reason to believe the panelists will do anything but their best, Albertans in those communities deserve more direct attention from the government.

After the uproar over Bill 6, the farm safety legislation passed by the Legislative Assembly in December 2015, I would have thought that NDP cabinet ministers would be more sensitive to the impact of their policies on working Albertans, who also happen to be rural Albertans. It is surprising to me that Ms. Notley has not made a point of making very public visits to these communities to meet with the Albertans who will be directly impacted by the coal phase-out.

They may have been spooked by the backlash to Bill 6 but that should have been a lesson to reach out to rural Alberta, rather than stay away. The NDP might not like what they hear from residents in those communities, but part of leading a government is meeting with people who disagree with you.

Phasing out dirty coal and transitioning to renewable energy represents a huge transformational change in how our province generates electricity, and Alberta should be on the cutting edge of this change.

As technology evolves and the government moves forward with its Climate Leadership Plan, the NDP has a responsibility to make sure no Albertans are left behind. Whether it requires retraining or new education, the government should make the residents of these communities feel like they are part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

The list of coal fired power plants and mines in Alberta.

The list of coal fired power plants and mines in Alberta and their phase-out dates (from the Government of Alberta website).

Premier Rachel Notley's expanded 17-member Alberta NDP cabinet.

Notley spreads out the workload in new expanded NDP cabinet

Alberta’s provincial cabinet grew by six today as Premier Rachel Notley announced an early 2016 cabinet shuffle. These appointments bring the size of Alberta’s cabinet up to 19, which is larger than the initial 12 cabinet ministers appointed after the NDP won the 2015 election but is still the smallest Alberta cabinet in more than a decade.

It became clear in the NDP government’s first half year in office that it would be unrealistic to have such a small group be responsible for so many large government ministries. Because of this, it was widely suspected that the new government would wait until 2016 before deciding which backbench NDP MLAs were cabinet material.

Here are some of the changes made as a result of today’s cabinet shuffle.

Edmonton-Glenora MLA Sarah Hoffman retains her position as Minster of Health while also taking on the role of Deputy Premier. Ms. Hoffman has proven herself to be one of the strongest members of the provincial cabinet, so this promotion is not a surprise.

Calgary-Acadia MLA Brandy Payne will assist Ms. Hoffman as Associate Minister of Health, a position that has existed in the past.

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Lori Sigurdson took a political beating during the Bill 6 farm safety law debates has been demoted from her role as Minister of Advanced Education and Minister of Jobs, Skills and Labour. She is now Minister of Seniors and Housing.

Replacing Ms. Sigurdson are Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Marlin Schmidt as Minister of Advanced Education and Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray as Minister of Labour (no longer the Ministry of Jobs, Skills and Labour).

Ms. Gray is also Minister Responsible for Democratic Renewal, a role that coincides with her position as chairperson of the Select Special Ethics and Accountability Committee, which is reviewing the Election Act, the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, the Conflicts of Interest Act, and the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.

Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Richard Feehan has been appointed Minister of Indigenous Relations, which has been renamed from Aboriginal Relations.

Calgary-Cross MLA Ricardo Miranda, is now Minister of Culture and Tourism. He is also Alberta’s first openly gay cabinet minister.

Two new cabinet ministers, Ms. Payne and Calgary-Varsity MLA Stephanie McLean, who is Minister of Service Alberta and Status of Women, are pregnant and expecting to add new additions to their families in 2016.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier is now Deputy Government House Leader, a role he shares with Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous.

It is unclear whether Mr. Schmidt and Ms. McLean will continue in their roles from the previous Legislative session as Government Whip and Deputy Government Whip. It is expected that MLAs will choose a new Deputy Chair of Committees to replace Mr. Feehan as he moves into his new ministerial role when the Legislature returns on March 8, 2016.

A full list of the new cabinet can be found here.

New Climate Change Office

The cabinet shuffle also included the announcement that a new Climate Change Office has been created to help implement the government’s Climate Leadership Plan. The new office will report to Environment and Parks Minister Shannon Phillips.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Alberta NDP face legitimate concerns and kooky conspiracy theories in debate over Bill 6 farm safety bill

Alberta’s NDP government has been in full damage control mode since Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act exploded in their faces late last month. While attempting to bring our province closer to national standards on farm safety – Alberta is currently the only province without occupation health and safety laws and employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers – the bill sparked two large protests at the Legislature and continues to bring out thousands of agitated rural Albertans to government-sponsored town-hall style consultation meetings across the province.

Commies

No, it’s not.

Bill 6 has been perceived as a threat to what many rural Albertans see as a traditional way of life and business on the family farm, and inept communications by the government only fuelled claims that this was the intention of the bill.

Taken by surprise, NDP cabinet ministers fanned out to the town hall meetings in an attempt to assure angry rural Albertans that they are listening to their concerns.

While the Wildrose, PC and Alberta Party MLAs have taken positions against Bill 6, the biggest advocate for the bill outside of the mostly silent NDP caucus has been Liberal party interim leader David Swann, a Calgary MLA and former medical officer of health of the now defunct Palliser and Headwaters health authorities in southern Alberta.

Returned from her trip to the Paris Climate Change Conference, Premier Rachel Notley published an open letter to reassure the media and the public that this bill was about farm safety, not about destroying the family farm.

Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Jobs, Employment and Labour, introduced amendments to Bill 6 in the Legislature this week.

The amendments, which “make clear WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends” and “make clear that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employees at any time of the year,” appear to address two of the main criticisms of the bill that many opponents and critics (including myself) have raised as concerns.

Aside from legitimate criticisms that rural Albertans were not properly consulted before Bill 6 was introduced into the Legislature, some opponents of the government have tried to spread the kookiest of conspiracy theories about the NDP’s proposed farm safety law.

Over the past week, I have heard claims that Bill 6 would:

  • allow the government to nationalize farm land to build solar or wind farms,
  • force farm workers to unionize as part of some secret communist conspiracy,
  • mark the beginning of a Stalinist farm collectivization program.

None of these outlandish claims are true. But while these claims largely emanate from the anonymity of Twitter and the internet, other oddball claims are actually being made by opposition MLAs.

In the Legislature on Dec. 1, Rick Strankman, the Wildrose MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, suggested that Bill 6 could lead to OHS inspectors confiscating privately owned firearms if they were found to be improperly stored on farms. Mr. Strankman spared fellow MLAs from hearing his best Charlton Heston impersonation.

But perhaps the kookiest of conspiracy theories comes from Progressive Conservative Party interim leader Ric McIver, who is reported to have claimed Bill 6 was part of the NDP plan to turn Alberta into a “Socialist Disneyland.” According to Metro Calgary, Mr. McIver continued in length to praise the conservatism of Saskatchewan, while choosing to omit the fact that our neighbour to the east has a 5 percent provincial sales tax, a 12 percent corporate tax rate, crown corporations for insurance, power and gas, and… farm safety legislation.

Alberta’s NDP government was caught totally off guard by opposition to Bill 6 and has helped fuel the backlash by being slow to react to concerns about changes to farm safety laws. For this, they deserve to be criticized. This is an important lesson for the new government, and one they should recognized as being lucky took place in the first year of their four year term in government, and not six months before the next election.

What’s next?

Bill 6 is currently in second reading in the Legislature.

This will not be the last time the new government will need to challenge the status quo in rural Alberta. The government’s next challenge to rural Alberta will likely be related to province’s longstanding grazing lease program, which the auditor general reports has cost the government an estimated $25 million in annual revenue and is currently under review.

Changes to Alberta’s electoral boundaries, which could be redistributed before the next election to reflect changes in Alberta’s population, would likely result in a reduction of rural constituencies and an increase of urban constituencies in the Alberta Legislature.

Alberta NDP should tap the brakes on Bill 6, its new Farm and Ranch Safety law

The Alberta government needs to rethink its approach to overhauling safety laws on family farms and ranches. Since it was introduced in the Legislature on Nov. 17, confusion about Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has triggered a significant backlash from Albertans in rural communities across the province.

Bill 6 would expand sections of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code to apply to farm worksites. If Bill 6 is approved by the Legislature, WCB coverage will be mandatory and farms and ranches in Alberta will no longer be exempt from OHS laws. Alberta is currently the only province without employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Nearly 400 angry farmers showed up to voice their concerns about Bill 6 at a government-organized town hall meeting in Grande Prairie last week. The event was hosted by public servants and consultants with no MLAs in attendance. Western Producer reporter Mary MacArthur reported this week that MLAs will be present at future town hall meetings planned for Red Deer, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Leduc, Vegreville, Olds and Athabasca.

Close to 200 people, along with 2 ponies, 1 border collie and 1 turkey (see above), staged an afternoon protest against Bill 6 outside the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015. To their credit, Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters at the Legislature to hear their concerns.

Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

It is clear that there are some changes that do need to be made to farm safety laws in Alberta. As is the case in every other province in Canada, the government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments.

But this is where the New Democratic Party government may have put the cart before the horse. It is unfortunate that the government did not choose to hold these public consultation meetings before introducing the bill. It seems that the NDP could have saved themselves a lot of grief if Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, Premier Rachel Notley, Ms. Sigurdson and other NDP MLAs had started this process by travelling to the rural areas of the province to ask farmers and ranchers how changes could impact them.

Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Under current safety laws, provincial officers are not allowed to conduct investigations when a workplace fatality takes place on a farm or ranch. The WCB is a shield to protect employers from lawsuits in case of workplace injury and should probably be extended to cover all actual employees of farms and ranches. And farm workers should not be exempt from being given the choice to bargain collectively, a right affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

But legal changes also need to reflect the uniqueness of family farms and ranches.

Unlike other worksites, farms rely heavily on incidental and seasonal help during spring and fall from family, friends and neighbours. And by definition, work on a family farm will include work done by family members, some who will not be paid a regular salary and some who will be under the age of 18. It has not been clearly communicated by the government how these changes would impact the day to day operations of these family farms or whether exceptions will be made for smaller farming operations.

While some of the criticism of Bill 6 is rooted in hyperbole and hysterics generated by opponents of the government, it is clear that there is much confusion around this bill, which is a communications failure on the part of the government.

Ms. Sigurdson released a statement following yesterday’s protest at the Legislature trying to clarify the government’s position. “A paid farmworker who is directed to do something dangerous can say no, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada. And if they are hurt or killed at work, they or their family can be compensated, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada,” Ms. Sigurdson said.

The debate around Bill 6 also highlights a political divide between rural and urban Alberta, neither of which are monolithic communities. It would be easy for us city dwellers to cast rural Albertans opposing these legislative changes as being backward or uncaring when we read media reports of workers or young children killed in farm accidents. And comments by MLAs like Liberal leader David Swann that the current legal framework would make “Charles Dickens blush” probably do not help foster a feeling of collaboration, even if there is a hint of truth to how far behind Alberta is in farm safety rules compared to other provinces.

Alberta is an increasingly urban province. According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift.

The recent provincial election marked a rare moment in our province’s history where MLAs from rural Alberta do not have a large voice in the government caucus. Twelve of the 53 NDP MLAs elected in May 2015 represent rural or partially rural constituencies. Most areas of rural Alberta are represented by Wildrose Party MLAs, who have taken every opportunity to attack the new government and advance the narrative that the NDP do not understand rural Alberta.

As most of their NDP MLAs were elected in urban centres, they should heed the advice that MLA Hugh Horner gave Progressive Conservative Party leader Peter Lougheed more than forty years ago.

David Wood observed in his biography of Mr. Lougheed, the Lougheed Legacy, that “Horner made one point that Lougheed and his colleagues have never forgotten: when you start believing that the people in rural Alberta are somehow different than the people in the bigger centres, you’re making a mistake. Rural Albertans come into the cities, go to concerts, shop in the malls: they’re as sophisticated and as aware of the rest of the world as any of their city cousins.”

Ms. Notley grew up in the northern Alberta town of Fairview. Her father, Grant Notley, was elected and re-elected as the MLA for Spirit River-Fairview four times between 1971 and 1984. Coming from rural Alberta, Ms. Notley should have an understanding of these changes could impact farmers and ranchers.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments. It also has a responsibility to clearly communicate to Albertans why these changes are needed and how they would be implemented. The NDP would demonstrate good will to rural Albertans by slightly tapping the breaks on Bill 6 and restarting this process with a thorough and meaningful consultation about improving farm and ranch safety in Alberta.

Update (Dec 1, 2015): The government announced it is proposing amendments to Bill 6 that would:

  • make clear WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends;
  • make clear that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employees at any time of the year.