Alberta premier gets rousing ovation for farm safety bill

Some farmers fear legislation will destroy profitability of their operations

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley received a rousing ovation from party members for her farm safety bill Saturday, and she later said cabinet will begin formulating the next steps on it in the coming days.

Notley, in her speech, said her government made mistakes explaining the legislation, but said that doesn't change its fundamental underlying intent.

"People in paid employment have the right to be safe at work in every workplace,'' Notley told the 350 members filling the chairs and standing along the walls of an auditorium at MacEwan University.

"And that, my friends, is a principle the NDP has fought for under every leader and in every election that we have ever run in.''

READ: Alberta farmers want workplace rules done right

The applause and cheers went on for just under a minute. Some chanted "Rachel! Rachel!'' Others, but not all, turned the ovation into a standing one.

Farmers held numerous protest rallies and jammed consultation sessions over the past two weeks to berate and swear at Notley's cabinet ministers over Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.

Energy Minister Marg McCuaig Boyd — from the rural riding of Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley — broke down in tears in the house Thursday, saying she had become overwhelmed by the hate mail and vitriol.

The act gives workers compensation benefits to paid farm workers injured on the job as of Jan. 1, 2016.

It also puts farms under Occupational Health and Safety rules as of Jan. 1. Farms must meet a basic standard of care until specific rules and regulations are rolled out in the coming year to 18 months.

Notley's government passed the legislation Thursday despite vocal and, at times, angry opposition from other parties and from some farmers.

READ: Alberta premier posts letter on Facebook to address farm bill protests

Opponents, led by the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties say the bill moves too far too fast and that more discussion is needed.

Some farmers fear the legislation will destroy the profitability of their operations by burying them in reams of paperwork. Others worry the rules will prevent moms and dads from passing the farm culture on to their kids.

The government brought some of the anger and confusion on itself when it introduced the bill last month, saying children on farms will be subject to Occupational Health and Safety regulations.

Last week, it passed an amendment stipulating that the rules only apply to paid farm workers. Any family member on a farm, paid or unpaid, is not subject to workers compensation or occupational health and safety rules.

Notley said her cabinet will meet next week to begin deciding how the consultation process will work to adapt safety, labour relations, and employment standard rules to the unique needs of each agri-industry.

She said it will likely start out with specific technical working groups meeting with stakeholders in each area.

"We will look at what the regulations look like in other jurisdictions and test them against our own practice to look at what works and what doesn't work,'' said Notley.

"Whatever regulations are drafted will actually be presented to the public before our cabinet endorses them.''

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