EDMONTON — About 200 people attended a rally against the NDP government’s farm safety bill at the Alberta Legislature on Friday.
Speaker after speaker talked about concerns the bill could drive them out of business, or prevent their children from learning about and working on the family farm.
Kamren Birkbeck runs a 1,000 acre farm near Mayerthorpe with his wife. Married just a few months, they’ve often talked about their own experiences growing up on farms, and how Bill 6 could take that away from their own children.
“We are all going to be punished for the way we were born and raised and taught how to do things,” said Birkbeck. “I always knew farming was a thankless job but I never felt so under appreciated.”
Bill 6 gives farm workers access to Workers Compensation benefits if injured on the job. It also puts farms and ranches under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, allowing investigators to review any injury, accident or death related to the commercial operation of a farm.
READ MORE: Alberta redrawing rules on farm work, safety
Farmers are also worried the costs associated with the changes will greatly reduce their already slim profit margins. They want the bill stalled until more consultation is done.
Riemer Prins, a first generation farmer from the Warburg area, rallied the crowd with chants of “Stop Bill 6.”
“As the premier has said, we have been waiting for this for 98 years,” Prins said. “So we don’t think a few more months delay will matter. Let us get this right.”
Sara Wheale, who founded a Facebook group opposing Bill 6, said it was “amazing to see how the farming community has come together in such a grand way.”
Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without coverage for farm and ranch workers.
Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson said she’s been listening to Albertans about Bill 6 and what it will mean for their families.
In a statement Friday evening she said:
“I want to assure those families that Bill 6 does nothing more than bring Alberta’s safety standards on farm and ranching operations in line with every other province in Canada.
“Family farms have thrived in those provinces, and they will continue to do so in Alberta.
“The concerns I’m hearing about most, relate to what the legislation means for family, friends and neighbours who pitch in on the farm. I can assure you that farm kids will continue to make their communities proud in their local 4-H program, just as they do in every other province.
“Neighbours and relatives will continue to help each other out in times of need, just as they do in every other province. These customary parts of farm life will go on as before, while enhancing protections for employees.
“Our legislation allows us the flexibility to develop common-sense regulations to achieve this goal. That is what we have started consulting on. And that is what we will ensure is achieved before the regulations are introduced.
“In the meantime, the legislation provides two simple things. A paid farmworker who is directed to do something dangerous can say no, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada. And if they are hurt or killed at work, they or their family can be compensated, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada.
“Statutory protection of farm and ranch employees and the preservation of family farm traditions are complementary goals of Bill 6. I encourage Albertans to continue providing their feedback on how we can accomplish both.”
WATCH: Kamren Birkbeck runs a cow and sheep farm near Mayerthorpe. He gave an emotional speech at a rally against Bill 6, describing how he believes the bill will affect his farm and his family.