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Alberta farmers sound off as controversial Bill 6 is debated in legislature

WATCH ABOVE: Bill 6, which has been the cause of many rallies across Alberta, was discussed inside the Alberta Legislature Wednesday night. Shallima Maharaj has the details.

OKOTOKS, Alta. – The steps of the Alberta Legislature are once again expected to be packed Thursday afternoon as farmers and ranchers protest Bill 6.

It will be the third protest in under a week at the Edmonton building, and one of many protests that have been taking place right across the province.

On Wednesday the approximately 250 farmers attending a consultation on Alberta’s farm safety bill said they want the province to send it back to the drawing board.

Larry Sears, who rode a horse into Okotoks from his farm near Stavely, said farmers are feeling slighted by Premier Rachel Notley’s government.

He said the New Democrats have little agricultural bench strength and don’t understand farm life.

A group of Albertans hold signs next to a road in Okotoks expressing their disapproval with Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
A group of Albertans hold signs next to a road in Okotoks expressing their disapproval with Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. David Boushy, Global News
An Alberta man holds a sign that expresses his frustration with Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
An Alberta man holds a sign that expresses his frustration with Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. David Boushy, Global News
An Alberta teen expresses his opposition of Bill 6 by holding a sign that reads "Daddy am I breaking the law?" Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
An Alberta teen expresses his opposition of Bill 6 by holding a sign that reads "Daddy am I breaking the law?" Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. David Boushy, Global News
Albertans in Okotoks express their opposition to Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
Albertans in Okotoks express their opposition to Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. David Boushy, Global News
A farmer drives a piece of farming equipment to an information session on Bill 6 in Okotoks, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
A farmer drives a piece of farming equipment to an information session on Bill 6 in Okotoks, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. David Boushy, Global News
A convoy makes it way to Okotoks for a Bill 6 information session, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
A convoy makes it way to Okotoks for a Bill 6 information session, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. David Boushy, Global News
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David Boushy, Global News
A convoy makes its way from Fort MacLeod to Okotoks for a public information session on Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
A convoy makes its way from Fort MacLeod to Okotoks for a public information session on Bill 6, Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. David Boushy, Global News
Bill 6 protest
About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta's Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News
Bill 6 protest
About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta's Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News
Bill 6 protest
About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta's Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News
Bill 6 protest
About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta's Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News
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Bill 6 protest
About 20 vehicles parked alongside Alberta's Highway 2 on Nov. 30, 2015 to protest Bill 6. Craig Hooper / Global News
A large crowd protesting Bill 6 at the Alberta Legislature on Monday.
A large crowd protesting Bill 6 at the Alberta Legislature on Monday. Tom Vernon, Global News
A turkey wears a sign in protest of Bill 6 at a rally in front of the Alberta Legislature on Friday.
A turkey wears a sign in protest of Bill 6 at a rally in front of the Alberta Legislature on Friday.

The proposed legislation would make it mandatory for farm workers to be covered under occupational health and safety regulations. Workers would also be able to join unions and bargain for wages.

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WATCH: In the middle of Alberta-wide protests, an injured former farm worker speaks out in support of Bill 6. Bindu Suri reports.

Sears said unionizing farms would foist an “unproductive mindset onto a productive sector of society.”

“We’ve had entrepreneurship. We’ve had opportunities to be successful as far as finances go,” he said.

“We don’t need any more regulation to eat away the opportunity for profits.”

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Notley has acknowledged that confusion over the bill is partly due to some of her own officials giving out misinformation when they explained the legislation to farmers and ranchers.

The government has promised to clarify the intent of the bill and bring in amendments to preserve family farms and ensure children and neighbours will still be able to help out.

READ MORE: Alberta to amend Bill 6 to clarify kids, neighbours can still help out on family farms

Notley has said the bill, introduced two weeks ago, will pass this month.

Protests have included demonstrations and lineups of farm equipment along highways. A rally on Monday brought 1,000 farmers and their families to the steps of the legislature.

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WATCH: More than 1,000 farmers and ranchers rallied on the front steps of the Legislature Monday opposing Bill 6. Tom Vernon reports.

 

Heated debate over the bill continued in the house Wednesday afternoon and lasted until early Thursday morning.

Opposition Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said while the amendments may be designed to help preserve the family farm, the issue is not black and white. Many family farms are run as sophisticated business operations, he said.

“That’s just one of the many reasons why this government’s amendments won’t work,” Jean said during question period.

“When will this government admit that it doesn’t know anything at all about farming or ranching and kill this bill?”

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Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver said if Notley’s government wants to make sure it is listening to farmers, it can start by getting adequate rooms for its consultations.

An information meeting on the bill in Red Deer on Tuesday was restricted to 500 people inside the hall. About 200 more were forced to stand outside.

It also appears there were space issues at Wednesday’s Okotoks meeting, with a tweet from a reporter saying the gathering was moved to the parking lot because the hotel was too small.

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WATCH: About 700 angry farmers and ranchers turned up in Red Deer Tuesday to protest Bill 6. As Doug Vassen reports, despite government promises to tweek it, very few are happy with what they are hearing.

“Will this minister do what is necessary to make sure that everyone that wants to be listened to on Bill 6 will actually be let into the room and then heard?” asked McIver.

Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee shot back that she was at the Red Deer meeting.

“I went outside and stood on a bench for 2 1/2 hours to listen to those farmers, to give them an apology for the miscommunication, and to share with them our commitment to moving an amendment forward to ensure that farm families will not be covered by that bill,” she said.

The anti-bill forces gained a little star power Wednesday. A posting on Facebook under the name George Canyon urges the province to put a halt to it.

“Bill 6 may be well intentioned, but nature runs on her own clock and family farms need to retain the freedom they need to make a living and properly tend to their stock,” said the post attributed to the Juno-award-winning artist.

The bill is still in second reading and the government’s amendments have yet to be introduced.

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WATCH: Country singer George Canyon took to his Facebook page to outline his concerns about the lack of consultation with farmers on Bill 6.

 with files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton, CHQR and Global’s Karen Bartko