AV: What does a typical week look like?
I’m out and about a lot. The year before last I put 100,000 kilometres on my truck, just getting around the province, meeting producers, meeting ranchers. Stakeholder engagement is a big part of my week. It’s very important to ensure I have their best interests at heart, that we do what we can to progress the industry.
AV: Do you see yourself more as an advocate for agriculture or a regulator?
Most certainly an advocate. That’s what it’s about, right? Stats Canada data show more and more young people coming back to the farm. For sure it’s a way of life, but agriculture right now is a good business as well… commodity prices being what they are. And with the world’s population increasing rapidly, they’re going to need agriculture and appreciate what we do here in Alberta.
AV: Why was Bill 6 necessary? Can you give an example of a farm practice you hope Bill 6 will change?
It was important to get Alberta farm workers in line with rights that farm workers across the country have enjoyed for decades. There’s many aspects to the bill, but a big part is health and safety. Previously, when there was a tragedy where a farm worker was severely injured or even killed, health and safety investigators couldn’t do an investigation to see what they could learn to help prevent tragedy in the future. That was fundamentally wrong. Now we have that ability.
AV: How would you like to see new health and safety rules enforced?
We’re still going through a consultation process. Six technical working groups looked at different aspects of this, two in Occupational Health and Safety. The recommendations are out now. You know, agriculture is so diverse. I grew up on a farm. I know somewhat about a cow–calf operation and seeded crops. But I don’t know a lot about how farmers raise cucumbers or bison. So we need to hear from all of those to define standards that will make all practices and worksites that much safer.
AV: You also made changes so that farm workers could join a union.
It’s just a basic human right—the right to organize, the right to associate. Canada’s Supreme Court said as much. It exists in other places. It’s existed since the 1940s in Saskatchewan. Farm workers, as a rule, aren’t clamouring at the gates to join a union. But they’ve a right to do so.
AV: It would seem a hard workplace to unionize.
Right. Not many farms have paid non-family workers. Many that do are just one, two, three [-employee] operations.
AV: Children as young as 13 who work on their family’s farm are exempt from some safety rules. How do you explain this to a non-farm audience?
I worked on the farm, as did all my friends. We didn’t think we were harmed; it was just what you did. It was a good way to learn a work ethic. But if Bill 6 raises the bar somewhat, improves the culture of safety on family farms as well as for paid workers, all the better. Farmers and ranchers want their workplaces to be safe anyway, especially for their children.
Interviewed by Evan Osenton. Evan is the editor of Alberta Views.
Find the full article in the June 2018 issue of Alberta Views.