Wednesday, 02 December 2015 15:10

Farmworkers’ legislation uproar due to poor planning, communication and execution

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Good news, the NDP has brought Albertans together. Bad news for them, it’s not the way the NDP would have liked.


At one of the consultation meetings for the farmworkers’ legislation in Grande Prairie Nov. 26, one of the signs at a work station read: “Labour Relations: Tell Us What you Think. What can the government do to help develop a collective bargaining framework that works for farmers and ranchers in Alberta? Are there times of year reflecting the agricultural cycle, when a strike or lockout would cause critical economic harm?”
Hence, this sign is a symbol of the absolute angry and emotional outcry from those in the agricultural community about Bill 6.
The Alberta government’s farmworker legislation that was tabled a few weeks ago and given timelines for which it will be implemented would allow employees of agriculture operations access to Workman’s Compensation Board and Occupational Health and Safety benefits. It was supposed to be debated in the legislature, even though Premier Rachel Notley has said in some form, with amendments or not, it will pass and become official legislation.
The sign can be laughed at because it is so out of touch with the agriculture community. Collective bargain has nothing to do with farming and is more of a labour issue.
Labour ... unions ... hey, wait a minute.
There has been instantaneous backlash in regards to this Bill which is being panned by critics for the content and speed it is being pushed through, along with its Jan. 1 implementation.
There is blame to go around. Those who have been following the Farmworkers Union and its consistent calls over the past decade or so, know the issue of protection for farmworkers isn’t new.
In August, agriculture minister Oneil Carlier said that some kind of farmworkers legislation was inevitable. Granted, nothing was said for a few months until it came to a head a few weeks ago and groups have been scrambling since to find out more information. Why weren’t these groups either informed in the summer so as to pass the information on to their members? If they weren’t, then the question needs to be asked, are these agriculture groups being held accountable?
No matter what a person’s view is on Bill 6, it  undoubtedly galvanized a fragmented agriculture sector. It has become apparent, for a variety of reasons, not all those in the various agricultural sectors have been speaking with one voice. Crop producers and livestock producers have their own organizations depending on province, commodity and even specific types of crop or cattle breed .
A variety of organizations have popped up such as the recently formed Southeast Alberta Agriculture Advocate which is based in Cypress County and as of Dec. 1 had 955 likes onFacebook. The initial group, Farmers Against NDP Bill 6, has a whopping 46,289 provincial members, which is interesting because the 2011 Census of Agriculture shows there are only 43,234 farms in Alberta.
On Nov. 27, about 200 people showed up to the Alberta legislature demanding a delay of the farm safety bill and on Nov. 30, about 1,000 people, many of whom came by bus from across the province, showed up to protest. Judging by social media, such as Twitter, the rally was at times angry and vicious.
A PostMedia story Dec. 1 said Notley blamed misinformation from government officials which has caused some confusion amongst farmers. Nothing like building confidence in the voters.
All of this adds to the fanning of the flames of serious discontent amongst Albertans in regards to, not only the left-leaning ideology, but the seemingly lack of preparedness.
When a government which plans on pushing through a union-friendly legislation (remember the Grande Prairie placard referred to at the start of this editorial) onto people who have been conducting their personal businesses the same way for 110 years, it is bound to meet with some resistance.
This isn’t to say the rules about WCB shouldn’t be changed for farm workers. Rules for them have been deplorable. Change has to happen, but the consensus is at the very least:slow it down.
The NDP complained when it was in opposition, that the narcissistic and self-entitled attitude of the PCs had destroyed understanding and connectedness between government and ordinary citizens.
If the NDP would have done their homework, they would have realized they are attempting to change the rules by which Alberta agriculture producers have followed for generations. Family farms and farming/ranching is as equally about lifestyle as it is about livelihood.
Plus, farmers and ranchers don’t have time, nor are they used, to dealing with a bunch of laws and future possible litigation. Find out what’s going to work best for them, not what suits lawyers or labour experts.
There is a perception that an agenda is being pushed of unions, heavy taxes and overall left-wing platitudes. Other details aren’t helping either, such as Notley is married to Lou Arab, the communications executive of Canadian Union of Public Employees; Anne McGrath, Notley’s deputy chief of staff who was just hired from the federal NDP, once ran for the Community Party in the 1984 federal election; and Notley’s pushing of a carbon tax and the elimination of coal.
Amendments are supposed to be debated in the legislature before they are passed.There was talk Dec. 1 of amending the legislation to somehow satisfy the farmers’ concerns about portions dealing with family farms and family members and neighbours working. Whether this takes place is of no matter — the damage is done.
Too bad, everyone involved deserves better.
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor