Bill 6 was passed by the government in December of 2015. All opposition members that were in the house voted against the Bill.
This Bill incorporated 4 pieces of legislation. Those being:
- Employment Standards
- Labour Relations
- Workers Compensation Insurance (WCB).
Thousands of farmers and ranchers across the entire province were very vocal as to what Bill 6 would mean to their operations. Enough pressure was brought on the government, both by citizens and politicians, that an amendment was approved. That amendment granted an exemption from the Bill to the family farm.
Western Feedlots, however, suspended its operations in Alberta stating that the political climate and policies of the new government were making those operations unattractive. Western, which had three locations in Alberta, was one of the biggest cattle feedlots in the province and losing a buyer like that cannot help but affect prices at the farmgate.
Another instance, in the Medicine Hat area, has seen the family run Short Green Ranches operations health benefits cost double with the mandatory WCB coverage on top of fees already paid through their private insurance program. Short Green Ranches employs 7 people.
It really is to no one’s surprise that the implementation of Bill 6 has been a mess since passing of the legislation. Bureaucrats that are charged with said implementation of this Bill have admittedly modest experience with farms or ranches. Also, several of the Bill 6 roundtables have finished with little in the form of updates to possible decisions being made.
As far as mandatory WCB insurance for farms and ranches, it is clear that the Workers Compensation Board has a history of being complicated and difficult to deal with. Along with premiums that are reportedly higher than private insurances, agriculture operations are seeing their bottom lines being eroded.
This legislation took away the ability of farm and ranch owners to choose between private insurance and mandatory government WCB coverage. Along with the other pieces of legislation that were included in this Bill, the hurried and non-consultive process that the government chose has been disrespectful of the hardworking farmers and ranchers in Alberta that are charged with feeding the world.
Additionally, the agriculture industry is feeling significant strain from the implementation of the Climate Leadership Plan…or the carbon tax. Prices for electricity to run pumps or pivots will undoubtedly see spikes as well as agri-food industries that are huge users of natural gas. And there remains the ongoing uncertainty of what the fallout will be when regulations are brought forward as a result of the roundtable discussions.
Provincial farmers and ranchers are not the only ones that recognize the hassle that Bill 6 has become. Each year, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business issues an award highlighting outrageous red tape that ends up weighing down small business. This year’s winner of the cumbersome policy award goes to the Alberta NDP government. The CFIB recognizes the crippling effect that such strict legislation has on an industry without standardized hours and irregular industry cycles.
There is a different path forward for our agriculture sector. Wildrose is committed to repealing Bill 6 and consulting with farmers and ranchers as to what they believe is the best way to improve farm safety in Alberta. Farmers and ranchers are the best resource when it comes to discussions about safety on their land. Wildrose will respect them when it comes time to discuss options.
Dave Schneider is MLA for Little Bow and Wildrose Shadow Agriculture & Forestry