By Trevor Busch
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter gave an update on the implementation of farm labour legislation during the recent Alberta Sugar Beet Growers annual general meeting.
“First of all, I just want to thank you for being the growth engine of our province,” said Hunter, speaking to growers at the Heritage Inn on Feb. 8. “The farming industry has been the growth industry, always. Oil and gas obviously, it peaks, it’s a growth industry but farming has always been that stable business and industry that helps Alberta compete and maintain its strong position.”
Hunter, who represents the Wildrose Party, declined to bring greetings from the NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley to the assembled membership at the meeting.
“One thing that I normally do is bring greetings from the government, but in this situation I’ve realized I’ve got to stop doing that because I’m not sure if people are going to start throwing eggs at me. I won’t bring greetings from the government, but I will bring greetings from the legislative assembly, which is all parties. I want you to know we’ve been following very carefully the panels — Bill 6 first of all — that are going to be determining what the Occupational Health and Safety rules are for farmers and ranchers.”
According to Hunter, recommendations for the legislation’s regulations made by representatives from the agriculture sector have been blocked by partisan bureaucrats.
“What I can tell you is they’re wrapping up. They had some fairly good people — farmers and ranchers — on those panels. Unfortunately, though, the way that they structured these panels was that they had to come to unanimous consent when it came to any recommendations that went forward to the government. So what’s happened is, they’ve brought really good, reasonable ideas to these panels, especially from the people who know that industry best, which are farmers and ranchers. The people that are on those panels, in talking with me, they’ve said that the people that are also put on those panels, which are the union guys, the Occupational Health and Safety people, the regulators, and bureaucrats — they’ve blocked the really good recommendations coming forward from farmers and ranchers.”
Hunter went on to describe the only “silver lining” of the situation as the beginning of a countdown to the next provincial election.
“What that means is we’ll have to see how the regulations come out, but I have to say that it doesn’t look good so far. It looks like there’s going to be a very watered-down approach to this Occupational Health and Safety. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but it seems like for the last two years that I’ve been in office, people stop wanting to invite me over, because every time I come over it’s always bad news. I will let you know that there is some silver lining in this — there’s only 27 months left of the NDP government.”
Drifting further into an attack on the ideas and direction of the Notley NDP government, Hunter reviewed some of the professed policy goals of that party found in their constitution.
“It took me a while to be able to figure out why the NDP government are doing what they’re doing. I’m going to just read you something that will help you understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. I had to go to their constitution. This constitution, I read through the whole thing, and I got right to the end to Appendix ‘C’. It’s got three paragraphs that are extremely important for Albertans to understand. I’m going to go around for the next year and half and tell every Albertan about these three paragraphs, because I guarantee you, had Albertans known about I’m about to read to you right now, they would have never have voted for the NDP. We would never have seen what we saw in 2015.”
Hunter expressed a negative view of electoral reform in the province, but gave few details about his beliefs in this area.
“So I’m going to point a few things out to you. It says, ‘The Alberta New Democratic Party offers an alternative vision of the future based on the following three principles’, we’ve been living for the last year and half with that alternative vision — the first is they want to bring in proportional representation. I won’t even talk about that, some people think it’s a great thing, I think it’s a terrible thing.”
Slamming some of the democratic socialist rhetoric found in the document, Hunter compared it to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.
“The second thing is about economics. It says, ‘Socialism is essentially the application of democracy to the economy. Economic democracy, i.e. democratic socialism, assures production to supply the needs of all people’. Now where have you heard that from? If anyone has ever read the Communist Manifesto, it’s directly out of that. I can promise you that had that information come out — it didn’t matter how well Rachel Notley did in that debate — people in Alberta would have rejected the NDP. We don’t believe in that.”
Economic freedoms would be curtailed under such a system, making the province less competitive, according to Hunter.
“We believe in free enterprise, free markets, and being able to make sure that if you work hard — it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, female or male, immigrant — if you come here and you work hard, then you have the opportunity to be successful for your family. It says that decisions about what shall be produced — when and where — and decisions about where we shall make our living, and under what conditions, should not be left up to the free market. I almost don’t need to say anymore, do I?”
The present competitive economic system breeds innovation and success, while “economic democracy” would curtail that success, adds Hunter.
“And the last part here says, ‘Economic democracy demands a co-operative rather than a competitive system’. Well I can tell you this much; (a competitive market is) the only reason why I can put this cellphone in the back of my pocket. If we didn’t have a competitive market, it would never have evolved to this. We would never have got this point. Innovation, through competition, is actually the hallmark of a successful society, and a successful province of Alberta.”
Hunter claims jurisdictions that have systems similar to what existed in the province prior to Bill 6 are more effective in eliminating workplace deaths in the agriculture sector.
“We’re moving in the wrong direction. This regulation — Bill 6, Worker’s Compensation, I’ve talked to many, many farmers and they tell me we had a good system — and this is farm workers telling me this by the way — we had a great system before, we had a system that actually provided us with insurance 24/7 instead of just the time we work, and they loved it. The fact is, somehow we were doing things really well in Alberta, because when you compare us to other jurisdictions that have WCB, that have OHS, legislated onto farmers and ranchers, the stats in terms of deaths in those jurisdictions, they have more deaths in those jurisdictions then we do here. So w’ere doing something right here.”
Hunter noted the NDP’s ulterior motive in forging ahead with labour protections in the agriculture industry is to promote the unionization of farm labour.
“So I brought that up to the government and said listen, if you want to legislate, tell me why? What is the burning reason? I knew the burning reason, to unionize farm labour, but they wouldn’t say that out loud. They just said it was about protecting farm labour. In reality, we were protecting our farm labour very well. So we’re moving in the wrong direction. I hope that it’s just a blip in time, and that we can survive this. I believe that Albertans can survive it because we’re hearty folk.”