12/09/2015 12:22 EST | Updated 12/09/2015 12:59 EST

Alberta Moves To Limit Debate On Bill 6, Says Opposition Is Filibustering

"The only power we have in this place as opposition is the power to speak.''

Dean Bennett/CP

EDMONTON — Alberta's NDP government has served notice it is limiting debate in the legislature on a contentious farm safety bill.

Government house leader Brian Mason gave the required one day's notice Tuesday that gives him the option of limiting debate to one hour on each of the final three stages of discussion on Bill 6.

"It's quite clear that the opposition is filibustering,'' Mason later told reporters.

"They're trying to block the business of the house and we can't allow paralysis of the assembly. There's important business that needs to be attended to by the house, not just Bill 6.''

Opposition members have been talking long into the night in recent sitting days to try to stall the bill and give farmers more time to voice their opposition.

"We can't allow paralysis of the assembly."

Farmers have organized convoys and protest rallies since the bill was introduced three weeks ago. They have shown up by the hundreds at public consultation sessions to berate cabinet ministers.

The bill proposes workers' compensation benefits and health and safety rules for paid workers on farms.

Producers say that would bury their operations in red tape and hurt their ability to pass on their way of life to their children.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, speaking at length on the bill Tuesday morning, said a filibuster is necessary.

"The only power we have in this place as opposition is the power to speak,'' he said. "The only opportunity we have is to stand up ... to speak to the bill, to try to slow the process down so that farmers and ranchers can have their say — because they have not had their say.''

Jean said the government has limited consultation with farmers, so it follows that it would limit it in the legislature as well.

"The only power we have in this place as opposition is the power to speak.''

Mason said he won't automatically invoke the closure motion at each debate stage, but will do what is necessary to get the business of the house completed.

Closure motions could see the house pass Bill 6 by Thursday or next Monday.

Tempers flared

The closure motion came after another loud, vitriolic question period. Both sides of the house shouted, pointed and banged on their desks. Some farm families looked on from the gallery.

The Wildrose all but shouted down NDP backbencher Cam Westhead during his statement supporting the bill. Later, as tempers flared, Mason called out the Opposition as "goons'' and "gangsters.'' He later apologized.

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.

Farmers say they weren't consulted and are demanding the government pull the bill to allow for more talks.

The Opposition Wildrose and Progressive Conservatives have taken up that fight and say lack of consultation shows disrespect to farmers.

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

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, Premier Rachel Notley has said.

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