Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen visited Lethbridge on Wednesday to take part in his 21st Farm Freedom and Safety Act consultation session of the summer. About 30 local agriculture representatives and farmers took part in the discussion to generate ideas about what should be incorporated in the act, which should be introduced to replace Bill 6 in this fall’s sitting of the legislature.

Dreeshen admitted likely what will come out of this series of consultations would be quite similar to what the UCP has already proposed during the last election campaign – with farmers being required to carry insurance which would cover their employees, but having a choice between WCB coverage and private insurance options.

“We did campaign on certain things,” he said, “like having a choice in insurance or having three-farm-employee (OHS) exemption, but that didn’t come from a vacuum. It came from consulting with farmers. We are now going out and consulting farmers, and the fact some of the same themes are reoccurring isn’t a surprise.”

Dreeshen said consensus around insurance choice was something easy to come by, with most farmers he has spoken to in agreement on the issue, but he admitted consensus around OHS exemptions was a little more difficult to build with some farmers wanting it expanded to five employees or less and others feeling there should be no exemptions for farms with paid employees at all. The government was still trying to sift through that one, Dreeshen admitted.

“Something we are looking at is should there be a three- or five-employee limit that would allow for an exemption, but we have also heard from farmers that say why should we have any number?” he said. “Why have an exemption? There is (that discussion) in these consultations where we are trying to build a consensus of what exactly it will look like.”

Dreeshen said the government would also likely be putting resources toward increased farm safety awareness for farmers and other members of the ag industry.

“I think there gets to be a misconception that somehow farmers are putting their kids in workplace situations that are unsafe,” said Dreeshen. “And I think by and large, on any farm I have seen, they want to make sure whether it’s their son or daughter, cousin, niece or nephew – or longtime farm worker they have had for years- they want to make sure that person goes home safe at the end of the day. That is something where we are working with farmers, with ranchers and workers as well, to say, ‘let’s have a common-sense, proactive education component that can be there before an accident or an incident ever happens.’ How can we better educate a culture of safety on farms here in Alberta that could ultimately prevent any type of workplace accident on a farm?”

At the end of the day, Dreeshen said the NDP’s Bill 6 was too prescriptive and nearly impossible for any farm to implement to the degree that law required. The government’s Farm Freedom and Safety Act, he said, would allow greater flexibility to account for each farm’s individual circumstances, rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach.

“After Bill 6 was passed, there were seven working groups that over the course of two or so years tried to improve certain aspects of Bill 6 to make it work,” he stated. “But, at the end of the day, it is still a piece of flawed legislation farmers can’t be in compliance with, and a piece of legislation that doesn’t work for farms. Bill 6 never had a ghost of a chance of anyone being in compliance with. It was just a bad piece of legislation.”

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