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Family farming is a way of life in Alberta. It is intrinsic to the fabric of our rural communities, and has been for more than 100 years.

I can also tell you from experience that nobody cares more about the safety of farms than the moms and dads who live there. Farm workers are more than employees, they are friends, neighbors, and in many cases family.

One of the most enduring values of rural life is our commitment to take care of each other. It’s just one of the things that make rural Alberta truly unique.

Some things have, of course, changed over the last century. There are larger, commercial farms and livestock operations that do resemble a typical workplace and for which typical workplace regulations should largely apply.

Wildrose believes, as many farmers and ranchers do, that more should be done to improve safety for farm and ranch workers. But the government is poised to unilaterally overhaul legislation affecting the traditional livelihoods of thousands of Albertans.

Omnibus Bill 6 lays down Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) regulations for all farms as of Jan. 1. It opens the door to new employment standards, and expands the Labour Code to encourage the unionization of farm workers.

Calculating the impact on family farms is difficult, and that’s a big part of the reason to take more time. By Jan. 1, all farms will be expected to pay WCB premiums (1.7 to 3 per cent more on their payroll) regardless of the insurance they already carry. Bill 6 also greatly expands the definition of who is a farm worker, and even imposes regulations on unpaid friends and neighbours.

Every time the government has done broad consultation in the past the verdict has been the same: “Educate, don’t legislate.” If we truly want to improve farm safety, improved education is the most effective path forward: more awareness, better training materials, and recognition of the unique aspects of differing agriculture sectors.

It seems this is not a message the NDP government is willing to hear. Unless something changes, perhaps the most transformational rural legislation in a generation will come into force just 45 days after first being made public, and impact over 40,000 farms across the province.

This simply is not right.

Wildrose is asking the government to pause this process and listen to farm families. We are also seeking an amendment to ensure family farms are not unfairly lumped in with larger corporate entities.

To make this happen, we need your help. We need you to get in touch with your MLAs. Make a call. Write a letter. Attend one of the government’s after-the-fact consultations, scheduled from Nov. 26 to Dec. 14.

Your farm is your home. You deserve a say on how you are treated under the law. Please help me fight for your right to have your say.

Brian Jean and the Wildrose Official Opposition

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