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‘We want safety’: Farmer combines, tractors line Alberta’s Highway 2 to protest Bill 6

Dozens of vehicles, including trucks, combines and tractors lined Alberta’s Highway 2 Monday afternoon in the latest protest of the NDP government’s Bill 6.

Traffic continued to flow on the highway during the protest, which ran from 12 p.m. to about 2:30 p.m. just north of Nanton, Alta. Nanton is about 90 kilometres south of Calgary. Participants characterized the event as a protest rather than a blockade.

About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta’s Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News

Effective Jan. 1, Bill 6 will put all farms in the province under Occupational Health and Safety and mandate workers’ compensation. The province says it will consult with industry before finalizing the bill, but many rural residents are upset.

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READ MORE: Alberta redrawing rules on farm work, safety

“It’s not as if this is just a bunch of rednecks saying, ‘no this isn’t going to work for our industry,’” Nanton-area farmer Leanne Habraken said at the protest. “We want safety. But this bill is immature and inappropriate and the consultations that are supposed to be happening aren’t.

“Just because you have a majority government doesn’t mean you can act like a dictatorship.”

Meanwhile, on Highway 5 south of Lethbridge, a similar demonstration took place.

Jeff Bevans and his family brought signs and clipboards with petitions at a rally near Welling to stand against Bill 6. His family members are local ranchers and are concerned the proposed bill could change the way they live their lives and raise their children.

“We’re just here trying to get more support and get our voice out there to the NDP that we are going to fight for our family farms and freedom because that’s what they are taking away, is our freedom and our way of life,” he said.

Trucks and farm equipment lined the highway, but did not block it.

“Nobody was ever going to block traffic,” said Bevans, “we are just letting people know they can pull over and we had signs that said, ‘If you’d like to sign, pull into the parking lot,’ and people are pulling over and showing great support.”

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Kamren Birkbeck, who runs a 1,000-acre farm near Mayerthorpe, said at another rally at the Alberta legislature on Monday farmers felt they’d be punished for the way they were taught how to farm.

“I always knew farming was a thankless job but I never felt so under appreciated,” Birkbeck said.

About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta’s Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News

Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson issued a statement Friday evening, saying she’s been listening to Albertans about Bill 6 and what it will mean for their families.

“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.”

WATCH: Farmers and ranchers across Alberta held protests Monday, saying the Alberta government is moving too quickly on bill 6, a bill they say could endanger their livelihood. Global’s Quinn Campbell reports.

Habraken accused the Alberta government of acting like a dictatorship.

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“We are not against safety and not against reforms. We are saying this bill is not ready to be pushed through,” she said. “We’ve written tens of thousands of letters and made just as many phone calls, and we have petitions, and they’re not being heard. This bill is still being rammed through.”

Sigurdson said the concerns she’s heard the most about so far relate to what the legislation means for family, friends and neighbours who “pitch in on the farm.”

About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta’s Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News

“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,” said Sigurdson.

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READ MORE: It’s ‘labour legislation disguised as farm safety’, says Alberta family concerned about Bill 6

About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta’s Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News

With files from Global’s Jill Croteau

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