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More flexibility for farmers: Minister Dreeshen visits St. Paul to consult on new farm safety bill

These farmers and concerned citizens discuss what they want to see in the UCP’s overhaul of farm safety legislation. 

One of the most divisive bills this decade in the province is getting repealed and replaced, and St. Paul area farmers got the chance to have their say.

A consultation meeting for the province’s upcoming bill Farm, Freedom, and Safety Act at the Ag Corral in St. Paul on Friday saw the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshan, Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson and two dozen concerned farmers discuss what did and didn’t work with the NDP’s Bill 6 when passed in 2016.

MLA Dreeshan said this is part of talking with the grassroots and getting the policy right.

‘Tell the great story’

He said that the most common things he’s hearing during the consultation tour is giving farmers a choice for insurance, instead of making Workers Compensation mandatory and increasing the education about agriculture.

“We’ve heard from a lot of farmers that they will keep their private insurance, and they just have to pay WCB policy premium as well. So they would just be double insured.

“Then a big educational component that they [farmers] want to be able to make sure that whether it comes to safety or curriculum, or even just kind of the main themes of agriculture, promoting agriculture as something that’s good and tell the great story rather than it being demonized by people,” said Dreeshen.

The focused conversations around the table discussed more flexible standards for employees, improvements in labour relations, finding the basic safety standards and special requirements, and more options for farmer’s insurance.

Maxine Fodness, farmer and St. Paul County councillor, sat around the table during these discussions and thinks it’s a step in the right direction in providing more flexibility to the farmer.

“To have the government step in and start regulating what people have proven for generations and generations – that they farm safe, they try to reduce liability and reduce risks – to have legislation come in and say to the farmer, you have to do this, you have to do that, I think it’s restrictive. And I think that it won’t benefit the agriculture industry,” said Fodness.

‘Equal across the board’

However, Forrest Persley, Bonnyville farmer, would like to see Bill 6 scrapped with no replacement.

He wants to see regulations made more fair across the board, but for the farmers to be left alone.

“If they’re going to come up with a farm legislation it has to be equal across the board. Hutterite, Mennonite….and deciding on family farms, there should be exemptions to the rules,” Persley said.

“Everybody that isn’t a farmer thinks that farmers are these rich people because we have these this huge equipment and high dollar items. The truth of the matter is we have to work exceptionally long hours a lot of times to pay for the $600,000 piece of equipment, with a profit margin of anywhere from five per cent – if you have a really great year – to 14 per cent,” said Persley.

“I was in the mechanic industry and they base it on 40 per cent. At parts school they teach me if you’re not making 44 per cent, you’re not breaking even. So where does that go for the farmer?”

‘Reducing regulation’

MLA David Hanson spoke after the consultation and echoed Minister Dreeshen’s comments about the education aspect.

“I think one of the things that came out was the need for education rather than legislation, which is, I think, something our government has talked a lot about is reducing regulation rather than imposing more regulation,” he said.

“I think when it comes to farm safety as the education part from school to on the farm is very important and I think it’s something that we can probably do a better job of.”

This is just one stop – the 14th – in the consultation tour.

Dreeshan said the government will undertake roughly 30 consultations across Alberta this summer in preparation for the fall session at the Legislature and passing the bill by the end of the year.

The Government of Alberta website has a survey running until the end of the month to gather more feedback.