A coalition of Alberta farm groups wants the provincial government to put the brakes on its proposed Bill 6 consultation model.
In mid-February, the province held a two-week nomination process to gather names for six separate working groups to consult on Bill 6, the controversial Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.
The problem is twofold, said Kent Erickson, co-chair of the Alberta Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition, or AgCoalition.
First, appointments to the working groups will be done by the agriculture and labour ministries —which “isn’t transparent,” said the Irma producer.
“We see that it’s an avenue for the government to get the feedback that it’s looking for, but ultimately, it’s picking who’s at the table, without any input from the ag industry as a whole,” he said. “We don’t really have control of that process, and I think that’s the biggest frustration for agriculture in general.”
After the government’s initial mishandling of Bill 6, transparency is critical to building trust on developing workplace safety regulations, said Erickson.
“This is directly affecting us, and as farmer employees and employers in the industry, we want to have some say in how that process is going along. We don’t feel we have that with the government’s process.”
The AgCoalition is also pushing for a change to the proposed working group model.
“The government process is very fragmented, and it doesn’t align with a good outcome for the ag sector in general,” he said. “There’s so many things that interconnect that you really need to have an entire look at the whole bill to come up with a good recommendation for agriculture.”
At the coalition’s inaugural meeting on Jan. 22, participants tested the six-table approach and found that it had “significant crossover of information” within the six working groups.
A much more sensible approach is a producer-led consultation process that “tackles each separate issue independently as a group,” said Erickson, adding the coalition will hold its own consultation process to provide recommendations.
“At the end of it all, if our recommendations don’t line up with the government’s recommendations, I think there will be some very good, strong voice on our side that the government’s going to have to answer to publicly as to why it’s different,” said Erickson.
The government’s consultations are expected to start in March, with a break during spring seeding and calving season. While AgCoalition has nominated industry members to sit on the working groups, the group will be “forging ahead” with its own consultations, said Erickson.
“We want to bring a solution to its process that will better suit the needs of our industry,” he said.
“We’re going to continue on as a producer-led — by producers, for producers — consultation process that we hope will have a good, accurate reflection of where our industry is looking to go with this bill.”
The AgCoalition was formed in January to offer a unified voice on Bill 6 consultations. It includes 30 major farm groups representing 95 per cent of Alberta farmers.