The announcement came with no legal details or timeline, or even an explanation of how the policy shift would impact family farms across Alberta. Rather, it seems this decision was made without speaking to farmers at all.
The vast majority of those actively working on family farms across Alberta have consistently opposed this policy. In 2009, the provincial government consulted more than 20 stakeholder groups regarding farm safety. The majority felt that legislation was the wrong approach, choosing to focus on increased education and training instead.
A follow up consultation was held in 2010, this time including all of the larger commodity groups, representing more than 50,000 producers. Coming out of these consultation the government formed the 15-member Farm Safety Advisory Council. Like the previous stakeholders groups and commodity groups, the Advisory Council once again opted against extending onerous OHS bureaucracy. The Advisory Council’s report, which was released publicly in 2013 but is no longer available on the department’s website, provided four recommendations that would lead to tangible improvement in safety.
I personally support the work done by the Advisory Council, which included seven farmers in addition to government, union, and stakeholder group representation. The fact is nobody is impacted by farm safety regulations more than farmers and their families, and nobody has more practical experience.
As the Advisory Group pointed out, food processors, greenhouses, mushroom farms, nurseries, sod farms, landscapers, and pet breeder/boarders are already covered by OHS legislation. Workers’ Compensation Board insurance, as well as commercial insurance, is available to farmers and ranchers on a voluntary basis. In addition, all farm workers are protected under the Employment Standard Code.
With these protections in place, it increasingly looks like the Agriculture Minister is playing politics rather than looking to improve safety. As we have seen in the past, imposing bureaucratic solutions on rural residents for such purposes is unnecessarily divisive.
The other problem the Minister will face is on the enforcement angle of any legislation he may try and bring forward on this. Alberta has the most expensive government it Canada. It’s wasteful and mismanaged. How can farmers be assured new farm safety measures will be enforced in a way that is ethical, efficient and responsive? They can’t. This leaves Alberta producers vulnerable to the whims of government bureaucrats, which is not a fair plan for producers.
The NDP government is clearly driven to bring down this legislation despite what farmers, producers or advisory councils have to say.
The fact is making any change to OHS policy without an honest attempt to gather feedback from family farmers would be counterproductive and the wrong plan for Alberta.
It is already difficult enough to keep family farms within the family. Adding more paperwork and costs won’t make things better it will drive out small farmers.
If safety is the goal, the smart move is to listen to farmers.
Grant Hunter is the Wildrose Official Opposition Shadow Jobs Minister and the MLA for Cardston—Taber—Warner