Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Alberta Announces Changes to Farm Safety Bill; Opponents Say Confusion Reigns

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Alberta Announces Changes to Farm Safety Bill; Opponents Say Confusion Reigns

Article excerpt

Alberta announces changes to farm safety bill

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EDMONTON - Alberta has introduced amendments to clarify that its contentious farm safety bill won't kill the family farm -- but opponents say the process is now so muddled the bill should be scrapped.

The amendments, introduced Monday, state that workers' compensation benefits and occupational health and safety rules will only apply on farms that have paid workers.

Farms that are run by families will be exempt, even ones where kin are paid to do work.

That's the opposite of what the government promised three weeks ago when it introduced Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. At that time, the government said farm volunteers and children would be subject to occupational health and safety safety rules.

Jobs Minister Lori Sigurdson said the original information was wrong and that the amendments reflect the government's long-standing policy position.

"This was our intent all along," said Sigurdson, adding there was miscommunication on the issue.

Bill 6 has become the focus of a widespread backlash by farmers.

In the last two weeks, they have held rallies, driven protest convoys of farm equipment and jammed government information meetings, where ministers have been shouted at and criticized.

Opposition parties have taken up the farmers' fight in the legislature. They say there needs to be more time for consultation with people affected by the bill, which touches on a range of issues.

The Wildrose party has begun holding its own public consultation sessions.

Wildrose member Jason Nixon said even with the changes "this bill still creates confusion, frustration and anger amongst Alberta's farming community. Their voices have not been properly heard."

Progressive Conservative House Leader Richard Starke said he believes the government did initially want to bring family farms under health and safety rules.

"That was the way they wanted to go. And when this furor erupted, they started backtracking in a huge way and saying, 'OK, what do we have to pull out of this (bill) to maybe salvage the situation? …

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