Bonnyville-Cold Lake MLA Scott Cyr held a Town Hall meeting on Friday, December 4th, in Bonnyville. The meeting was attended by 80+ community members, many of whom are farmers, who all had questions and concerns over the controversial Bill 6. The Bill, which aims to make Alberta’s farms safer, has not gone over well with farmers in the province. MLA Scott Cyr, says Bill 6 would essentially put an end to the family farm.
Alberta’s farms are safe – Scott Cyr MLA Bonnyville – Cold Lake
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During the two hour meeting, many local residents spoke of their own experiences on the farm and fears of what Bill 6 may mean. Many feared that the move to pass Bill 6 was an initial step towards unionizing farms. Others feared that the requirements set by Occupational Health & Safety were too high for a farm to realistically maintain without a drastic loss in time and money. And other feared that the financial burden would be too much for future generations to bare, thus losing the ability to pass farms down to their children.
One constant theme was in the room was that Alberta farmers’ voices are not being heard. Bobbi Persely, who owns a farm with her husband between Bonnyville and Glendon, spoke of her experience attending two rallies at the Alberta Legislature last week in Edmonton. “We weren’t being heard,” Persely says the Wildrose party, and MLA Scott Cyr were listening to the ralliers concerns, but she felt the NDPs did not give them their time. “The Wildrose stood up for us, that was great and everything. But we though [the NDPs] would listen to our complaints and actually come out and talk to us.” Persely feels, as many Albertans do, that Bill 6 is being pushed through without any consultation from farmers.
We weren’t being heard – Bobbi Persely Farmer Bonnyville-Glendon
Persely was one of a few in the crowd who had traveled to Edmonton over the past week to take part in the rallies on the steps of the Legislature building. There was lots of talk at the meeting of more going up this week, December 7-12th. MLA Cyr expressed concern that the NDPs will call Bill 6 to a vote as early as Thursday and urged people to take action quickly. Persely says the rallies were had a very peaceful and positive atmosphere. “It was very positive, it was like we were all family and we don’t even know each other.
Persely said her children, who are adults now, helped on the farm growing up, “the ones that wanted to, it has to be a passion.” With her kids in mind, Persely is fearful of what Bill 6 could do to the future of the family farm,”I’m worried about my kids and what it means for them.” Persely says her kids expressed interest in taking over the farm and now she wonders if that’s a possibility.
Bernard Charparnd has been farming in Fort Kent for 54 years, his family has farmed the area since 1905. “We’ve had two accidents in 54 years,” says Charparnd, “small accidents, I cut myself a little bit and broke a finger.” Charparnd, who’s 80 years old and still farming his land, does not believe he will be able to continue farming should Bill 6 become legislation. His children work in the oilfield and help when they can, but do not intend to take over the farm, “I can’t compete with oil money,” laughs Charparnd. His grandchildren also help on him, but there is are no plans to pass it to them either. “They make more money in one day, then the farm makes in 6 months.”
It’s a way of life, you can’t legislate – Bernard Charparnd Farmer Fort Kent
Charparnd explains working hours on a farm cannot be set, “we work with the moon. I’d say working hours on a farm are 20 hours a day. It’s what you have to do; when cows calf, when the crops come out, you just have to do it.” Charparnd says knowledge and safety practices are passed down through the generations, “we use common sense.” He says although he’s 80 years old he’s still able to take care of his farm, with the help of neighbours, “we have people that help us.” Charparnd shares a fear of many at the Open House is that neighbours and friends would no longer be able to help, “I’m disabled, I’ve been paralyzed for 30 years and farming with one hand.”
Along with farming Charparnd helps educate the next generation, he goes to schools as part of Farm Week and does presentations to the children. Charparnd speaks french and is able to go to the french schools in the area to give the kids a lesson on farm safety. Which he feels is important for farm and town kids to know, “that’s how the kids learn about farm safety.” He wonders if the NDP government plans to regulate what is taught to the kids and notes that no one has approached him regarding what he teaches in the classroom.
Gordon Graves is another local resident who goes into the schools to teach farm safety. “The classroom agriculture program has been on the go for 31 years,” explains Graves, “I’ve done it every year but one.” The Wildrose’s stance, Educate Don’t Legislate, is on line with Graves’ experiences and beliefs, “I’ve seen changes in the kids. There’s some who we’ve taught the program and they’re now young farmers, farming with their parents, and I’ve noticed a difference in how they approach things is a lot safer than it could’ve or would’ve been without that education.”
The program Graves teaches includes hands-on material that really resignates to the children, “it comes with a colouring book and the kids can doodle on it. That really sticks with them, more so than a parent yelling or screaming at them.” The Classroom Agriculture program is funded in large by Alberta Beef and other agriculture commodity groups, that came together with a like-mind to educate children in grade 4 about where food comes from, how safe the food is, how to care for it and how to care for the air and the water; as well as, farm safety. “It’s a multi-pronged presentation, and we improve on it as time goes on, because things change,” Graves says he’s unsure if the NDP government consulted with Alberta Beef or the developers of the Classroom Agriculture program prior to drafting Bill 6.
“Where Bill 6 is going to effect me is year-long Worker’s Compensation,” Graves explains he hires farm hands when the need is there, more seasonal workers, “I’m going to have to have year-long WCB coverage. I would suggest the NDP back-off and look at other options. There are companies out there that can offer coverage, a far superior product for less money.That’s what they should be asking of us, is to have coverage, not necessarily WCB.”
As for OH&S, Graves does not see how it will be implemented, “where is the government going to get people to come as inspectors, who know anything about agriculture and be able to say, ‘that’s not the way it’s conventionally done, but it’s safe.’ They haven’t got the ability to grasp that reality,” states Graves
I just don’t understand why they would ram Bill 6 through when they know nothing about farms – Gordon Graves Farmer Iron River
MLA Scott Cyr agrees with Graves that Bill 6 is being fast-tracked through, he expects it to go to vote by Thursday. The NDP hold a majority government and Cyr believes that the party will remain united on this issue leaving little hope that the bill will not go through. Cyr urges his constituents to write letters to him and the Agriculture Minister, Oniel Cartlier. Cyr advises people to reach out to friends and family in urban areas to write their MLAs and if time allows it to attend rallies at the Legislature building in Edmonton. Sessions are held Monday through Thursday and it is expected ralliers will be on the steps of the Legislature every day this week.