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‘Farm Folk’ feel no quick fix for Bill 6
Bill 6 covers farm and ranch workers under Occupational Health and Safety rules.
Published Friday, February 19, 2016 10:02AM MST
Last Updated Saturday, February 20, 2016 11:17AM MST
My Uncle Hardy was 17-years-old and was NOT going to let the tomcat escape.
It was 1949. My Oma and Opa had already lost a coop full of chickens to a weasel and couldn’t afford to lose any more. They had six kids (their youngest, my seven-year-old dad), a failed crop, and no insurance. Hardy, .22 calibre rifle in hand, cornered the wild feline and then, in a move we attribute to either the stupidity of youth, or a sudden change of heart about pulling the trigger, grabbed the gun by the barrel and swung the rifle at the cat. The stock hit the ground and the gun fired, sending a bullet right into Hardy’s stomach, three centimeters from his liver.
The family didn’t own a phone so Opa threw his eldest son in his neighbour’s car, hit the highway and sped 80 kilometres to the hospital in Calgary. Doctors pulled the bullet out, treated the wound and a week later, Hardy was back on the farm with his parents and siblings, surviving another 67 years before cancer finally took him.
It’s safe to say he outlived the cat he was chasing. There was no occupational health investigation, no questions from the police…maybe there should have been, but what happens on the farm, tends to stay on the farm. At least it used to.
Perhaps the biggest criticism of Bill 6, aimed not only at the NDP government but to a great extent ALL city dwellers, is that they simply don’t understand “farm folk”. This isn’t entirely untrue.
As someone who’s lived in Toronto (population: four million), Calgary (population: one million) and a farm (population seven…including a dog and two cats), I can say unequivocally that life in rural Alberta is vastly different from that in the city. Neighbors have the right to walk in without knocking, borrow your tools without asking and discipline your kids if they deserve it. Farms aren’t just livelihoods, they’re traditions, passed down from generation to generation like a family bible, and that’s why so many “farm folk” have their backs up right now.
Part of the frustration is the cost being imposed, specifically paying into WCB but another part is simply resentment, as if to say ‘We’ve been feeding this province for more than a century without any problems, why are you suddenly sticking your nose into our business?’
Of course, the government would say it’s a bit generous to imply there haven’t been any problems. There have been, including deaths. Many occupations in Alberta present a much greater risk than farming, but when children die everyone takes notice, and they probably should. The tragic case of three sisters being smothered by canola while playing in the back of a grain truck last fall shattered the notion of farms simply being large playgrounds. And while most would agree that Bill 6 won’t save any lives, they also concede it could make life easier for hired hands who get hurt on the job, thanks to insurance and workers compensation.
There was an unprecedented backlash to Bill 6 ahead of its passing and while the backlash may sting for a while, it’s unlikely to leave a mark. The NDP wasn’t elected by farmers; politicians know that, so do farmers.
“It’s safe to say rural Alberta was never actually flirting with the NDP anyway” one pollster told me.
Bill 6 is now a reality.
Farm operators who outsource work beyond their family will have to get used to that. They’ve adjusted to far tougher things over the past few years; drought, the rising price of dairy quotas and closed borders, just to name a few. But if nothing else comes of this, the NDP government and many urban Albertans may better understand that life in the farm is, in fact, remarkably different from life in a factory or on a rig.
My colleague Alesia Fieldberg, a farm girl herself, was assigned the unenviable task of covering the funeral of those three sisters near Rocky Mountain House in November. Covering death is, without question, the absolutely worst part of a reporter’s job. While CTV News only covers funerals when we are invited, it’s still a tough assignment and reporters often return to the newsroom upset, sometimes in tears, after facing insults from people who didn’t want them there.
But when Alesia came back that evening, she was carrying three trays of brownies.They were made by family and friends of the young victims who’d insisted Alesia bring them back to share with everyone in the newsroom.
“Farm folk?” I asked.
“Yep,” she replied. “Farm folk.”
This month, the Alberta government is beginning consultations with farmers and ranchers on Bill 6, Click HERE for more information.