Alberta Minister for Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen has been busy talking to farmers about scrapping legislation on farm workplace safety.
Introduced by the former NDP government in 2015, Bill 6 extended Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) coverage to farm and ranch workers, triggering protests around the province. The United Conservative Party government is looking to repeal and replace it with the Farm Freedom and Safety Act.
“Farmers from any political stripe were appreciative of the fact they were being listened to. I think that goes a long way for having a very positive approach to show that you can actually work with farmers and develop a piece of legislation that would ultimately affect their livelihood,” Dreeshen said.
Already Dreeshen has made about a dozen stops, traveling 4,000 kilometers and talking with 1,000 farmers. On August 8, he made a stop in Ponoka to consult farmers in the Lacombe area on the legislation. Feedback was focused on the overlap of insurance from private companies and WCB.
“One of the commons issues that came from it was the WCB coverage that a lot of farms would have private insured but were forced to pay WCB premiums and to have WCB as well. It was a common theme heard throughout,” he said.
Another topic on farmers’ minds was how to address misconceptions about the agriculture industry.
“There’s a great story we have to tell in Alberta, especially with the beef industry. We are producing more beef with less… There’s a loud vocal minority that speaks out against their industry and spreads mistruth and it’s something they want to be able to counter with facts.”
The consultation process is wrapping up at the end of August, and from there the UCP government plans to introduce new legislation and pass it by the end of this year. An online survey on the provincial website is collecting feedback for the legislation on topics such as hours of work and safety standards.
Repealing and replacing Bill 6 with the Farm Freedom and Safety Act was a campaign promise of now-Premier Jason Kenney. A broad policy goal of the UCP government was to reduce red tape of regulatory burdens and compliance costs, including in agriculture.
“A lot of the regulatory burden and this government is looking at how to cut down and regulations as well as compliance costs. Overarching policy goal for this government is to make sure we’re open for business and that we’re spurring on economic activity and growing jobs for Alberta’s economy,” said Dreeshen.