Alberta PCs say they were close to new rules for farm safety before election

A rally opposing Bill 6 at the Alberta Legislature on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. Global News

EDMONTON – Alberta Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver said the Tory caucus was close to bringing forward its own health and safety rules for farmers before it lost the last election.

McIver declined to say what those rules would have looked like or whether paid farm workers would have been covered under Occupational Health and Safety rules, as is the case under the NDP government’s contentious farm bill.

“At risk of having farmers and ranchers disagree with me on that, I’m not going to go into detail,” McIver said.

Debate on the farm bill resumed Tuesday in the legislature.

The proposed legislation calls for all paid farm workers to be covered under occupational health and safety rules starting Jan. 1 and to receive workers’ compensation benefits if injured.

READ MORE: Amendments to Bill 6 exclude farm owners and their families from new rules 

The Progressive Conservatives, while in government, were criticized for consulting on farm safety for years, but never introducing rules. Former PC premier Alison Redford promised to bring farmers under the occupational health and safety umbrella but nothing materialized.

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McIver said that in his former role as labour minister he was meeting with farm industry leaders and the agriculture minister.

“We were getting actually pretty close when they (farmers and ranchers) were going to agree to some legislative changes.”

NDP house leader Brian Mason said he wasn’t surprised by McIver’s comments.

“We knew that (McIver’s) department had been working on it and was frustrated that they couldn’t get the Conservatives to move on it,” said Mason.

Liberal Leader David Swann, who has fought for farm safety rules for years, delivered a rhetorical eyeroll over McIver’s comments.

“That’s pretty disingenuous to say that we were just about to put a plan together in the last session before they got unelected.

McIver suggested the NDP could have built on his party’s consultations rather than “assuming that everything that happened before (the provincial election on) May 5th was wrong.”

He said that while the PCs may be justly criticized for consulting too much and too long with farmers, the anger over the NDP’s bill exposes the danger of consulting too little.

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

Farmers have organized convoys and protest rallies against the bill over the last two weeks. They have shown up by the hundreds at public consultation sessions to berate cabinet ministers.

Producers fear the bill will sink farms under the weight of rules and regulations and limit their ability to pass on rural culture to their children.

They, along with the opposition parties, are asking Premier Rachel Notley to put the bill on hold pending extensive consultations with farmers.

The NDP is putting forward amendments to make it clear that the bill does not cover family members or volunteers who help out on a farm.

Notley has said the proposed legislation will pass this month because farm workers deserve safety protections.

Details — including specifics on occupational health and safety rules, employment standards and labour rights — are to be crafted over the coming year and farmers are to be involved every step of the way, she said.

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