Bill 6 may have passed, but debates on the controversial farm safety bill are far from over.
On Tuesday, nearly 300 people gathered on the snowy steps of the Alberta legislature to protest the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers legislation.
“It’s not even about the bill anymore. It’s about the Alberta advantage. Where did we lose track of that along the way?” rancher Kim Keely told the Edmonton Journal. “Everybody knew safety legislation was coming, but nobody asked us what we thought about it.”
Rural Albertans have been afraid the bill, which passed its third reading in the legislature on Thursday, will threaten family farms by forcing them to buy expensive insurance to cover children and volunteers.
Premier Rachel Notley says she's willing to accept full responsibility for the anger over the bill, and acknowledged that her government needs to mend some fences with rural Albertans.
“We have to take responsibility ourselves for the fact that we created a certain amount of confusion in how we originally communicated and we allowed families to be in a position where they were worrying about what the impact of these changes would be on their family farm," Notley told the Calgary Herald.
The government says that the bill was intended to offer workers' compensation benefits and occupational health and safety rules for only paid farm employees, and that coverage for family members and volunteers would be optional.
However, that messaging hasn't been consistent. When the bill was announced, as well as in a Workers Compensation Board (WCB) document released a few weeks later, the government said farm volunteers and children would be subject to the same rules and coverage.
“We have to take responsibility ourselves for the fact that we created a certain amount of confusion in how we originally communicated."
Amendments were later added to make the legislation more clear, but the damage from poor communication was already done.
Wildrose labour critic Grant Hunter told CBC News he feels as if the NDP was making up the details of the bill as they went along.
"When you read it, it's fairly clear what their intent was," Hunter said of the initially misleading WCB document.
The bill is set to become law on Jan. 1, but farmers and ranchers continue to voice their opposition, including at a town hall meeting in Coaldale on Tuesday.
“There’s not a lot we can do now that the bill has passed. However, we can be in control of some of the regulations that they make with it,” rancher Jean Minchau said in an interview with Global News.
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