One of the most turbulent Alberta legislature sittings in recent memory wrapped up Thursday with the passage of a contentious farm-safety bill.
The NDP government passed the bill in third reading by using its legislative prerogative to cut off debate. House leader Brian Mason said there had been 20 hours of debate at the second reading alone and he suggested the opposition was just trying to stall.
Mason said the crux of the bill was to provide to farm workers basic rights that workers in other industries have.
“People have been dying on farms. People are injured on farms,” Mason told the house. “Those lives are worthwhile. Those lives are valuable.
“Those families who’ve lost loved ones or whose breadwinners can no longer earn a living, they deserve support.”
Opposition parties fought hard against the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. They said it needed more consultation with those affected.
Farmers have held numerous protest rallies and convoys. They say they weren’t consulted enough and bureaucratic red tape will strangle the culture and profitability of family farms.
It has been, at times, an ugly, vicious debate, with cabinet ministers being heckled, berated, and sworn at during consultation meetings with farmers.
Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd, who is from a farm family, broke down in tears in the house recounting some of the hate and vitriol she has endured.
Premier Rachel Notley said while some people took their opposition “too far” she said “at the end of the day I feel very proud about the record that our government demonstrated this fall in the session.”
Once proclaimed, the new legislation puts paid farm workers under new rules starting Jan. 1. They will be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if injured on the job.
Farms will also come under occupational health and safety rules. Operators will be expected to meet a general standard of care until safety rules specific to their operations are crafted over the coming year.
The rules will only apply to farms where there are paid workers. Farms that only use family members — paid or unpaid — are exempt.
The farm bill uproar overshadowed a fall sitting that saw Notley’s government launch programs that — should they be realized over a decade from now — will fundamentally change the bedrock of Alberta’s economy.
Notley announced a plan for climate change reform that includes a broad-based carbon tax on everything from gasoline at the pumps to home heating and electricity. Oilsands emissions are to be capped and coal-fired plants are to be phased out.
Despite nose-diving oil prices that have sent Alberta’s petro-economy deep into the red, the NDP passed a budget that ramps up spending on schools, roads, and hospitals and provides more cash for core services such as health and education.
The bottom line is a forecasted $6.1-billion deficit this year and a projected $47 billion in capital debt before the end of the decade.
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean said the NDP is taking Albertans where they don’t want to go.
“We have seen the NDP put ideology and risky experiments ahead of what is best for Alberta and Albertans,” said Jean.
“This NDP government is pushing ahead with an agenda opposed by the vast majority of Albertans.”Report Typo/Error