12/03/2015 01:14 EST | Updated 12/03/2015 01:59 EST

Alberta Farmers Sound Off At Farm Safety Bill Consultations

Eye Ubiquitous via Getty Images
Canada, Alberta, Porcupine Hills, Farmer harvesting feed oats on a ranch near the Cowboy Trail. (Photo by: Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images)

OKOTOKS, Alta. — About 250 farmers attending a consultation on Alberta's farm safety bill Wednesday 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.

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.

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.''

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.

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

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

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.

Heated debate over the bill continued in the house Wednesday afternoon.

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?''

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.

"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.

This isn't about right and wrong. This is about practicality against impracticality. Proponents of Bill 6 likely haven't...

Posted by George Canyon on Tuesday, 1 December 2015

"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.

— CHQR, with files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

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