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Kenney urged to not throw away the good of farm safety legislation

Kenney urged to not  throw away the good  of farm safety legislation
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UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s brought in by the NDP government is being welcomed by some farmers, but others are sounding a note of caution.

The chair of the farmer-led organization that advocated for producers following the passage of Bill 6 said he believes the legislation as it stands today is generally good. While there was outrage in farm country in late 2015 when the Notley government first introduced the contentious bill, Albert Kamps — a Lacombe-area dairy farmer and chair of the AgCoalition lobby group — said the industry worked hard to convince the government to make changes to the regulations and ultimately landed in a “decent place.”

“We got rid of the obviously ridiculous ones, like the requirement to have port-o-potties in every field,” Kamps said. “There’s always room for tweaking and improvement, but I’m hoping we don’t throw away all the good work we’ve done.”

When the NDP was elected in 2015, Alberta was the only province in which farm and ranch workers were exempt from workplace safety legislation. The passage of Bill 6 brought farms under the umbrella of Occupational Health and Safety for the first time, though agriculture-specific rules that came into effect in December 2018 give farm and ranch employers some wiggle room — such as giving farm workers the ability to use older equipment and recognizing that seatbelt use isn’t possible on all forms of agricultural machinery.

Kamps said these changes were the result of lobbying by AgCoalition, which at the time represented 97 per cent of producer groups in Alberta. He said the industry ultimately made 140 recommendations to the government and every one was adopted.

However, Kenney said he believes farmers are still not happy with the new rules.

“I have not yet met a single Alberta farmer who supports Bill 6, even with the changes that were made and even with the consultations that were done after the fact,” Kenney said earlier this week in Ponoka County. “We’ll certainly listen to the work that was done, but we are going back to the drawing board.”

Kevin Serfas, who farms northeast of Lethbridge, said he has been working to get into compliance with the new rules on his own farm. While he said he understands the importance of safety, he welcomes any change that would lessen red tape and paperwork.

“Any reduction in regulatory burden, without sacrificing safety, is good in my mind,” he said.

Serfas said three years after the initial outcry over Bill 6, rural Alberta is by no means unified on the issue — though he acknowledged the NDP’s initial lack of consultation on the file remains a sore spot for many.

“There are some people that are still extremely angry. There are also people who’ve said we needed a little bit of a wake-up call, but the way it was done was way over the top,” Serfas said. “I think if you talk to 10 different farmers, you’ll get 10 different answers.”

Kenney has said that after repealing the NDP’s legislation, a UCP government would pass its own “Farm Freedom and Safety Act.” There would be fresh consultations with industry, and the UCP bill would allow farmers with employees to choose either private or WCB insurance. It would also exempt farms with three or fewer paid employees from employment standards.

On Tuesday, Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier criticized Kenney’s proposal, saying he is proud of the government’s farm safety legislation. He said it was worked out in consultation with farm groups in order to be flexible to their needs.

“To win a few votes, Jason Kenney is willing to risk the health and safety of our farm workers,” Carlier said.
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