I never fail to wonder why, but for whatever reason people seek out my opinion, particularly with regard to politics. Before elections I’ll never fail to get messages from friends asking me to help them decide how to vote (FYI give my take on issues, but never tell them what they should do). I also get the same sort of messages any time something political hits the fan.
Just the other day I got a message asking my take on Bill 6. In case you missed it, Alberta is in the throws of bill 6 hysteria. We messaged back and forth briefly and had a constructive, productive conversation, but this is my take on the situation in full now that the bill has passed.
O.M.G. won’t somebody think about the farmers?
Let me start by saying , I support the bill. I think it is shameful that by exempting agricultural sector employers we have deprived farm workers of the basic legal protections other workers have had for so long. It is not adequate or fair to leave safety and labour standards up an individual employers in any industry. These exemptions come at the expense of labour, and transferring any part of the cost from the business owner to labour is unacceptable.
I don’t buy into the ‘farming isn’t a business, it’s a way of life’ thing. If you run a family grocery store, a family bakery, or have family partners in a real estate firm, you have to follow OH&S laws and pay into workers compensation for employees. Maybe you chose farming, maybe you want to follow in family footsteps, maybe you even feel it is a calling, but that’s not special. Lots of people carefully choose their careers, lots of people follow in the footsteps of a parent, many people feel their careers are a calling. Take our Premier, for example. She’s not a labour lawyer by accident, her father definitely passed a passion for her current profession on to her. You farm because you can make a living at it. If you are still farming and are not making a living then that’s a whole other problem and it has nothing to do with anything that our provincial government can control, for good or bad.
What do I think happened to cause the bill 6 furor?
First of all, this new NDP government is not the 44 year old comfortable conservatives. They are keeners; keeners denied power for a long time that finally find themselves with the influence to make their vision of the world a reality. They have been storing up this strongly held belief that we can do better for a very long time. They believe in this bill. So much. To NDP supporters the bill is obviously needed, and obviously the right thing to do. After all, it’s safety and protection for working people, right? What can possible be objectionable about that? No doubt that passion and conviction at least partly blinded the new government to how much they should have communicated with people outside their NDP bubble. No doubt that they could very easily have underestimated the virulence of opposition they would encounter. To me, it feels like they messed up on the environmental scan. I understand that weakness. Personally I still find myself aghast when I come across people whose views are in direct conflict with mine, because I too live in a bubble of like minded people and that bubble lulls me into the comfortable illusion that my views because are the norm. I think this happened. I hope that they learn from it.
Secondly, you have to realize that this communicating with the whole province is new to the NDP – I don’t mean the desire to communicate with the whole province or the knowledge that communication to the whole province is a good thing is new. I mean the mechanics of actually communicating with so many different demographics effectively. I mean the nuts and bolts of knowing where the stakeholders are, who they are, how they access information, how they prefer to be communicated with, who they prefer to talk to and what they want to know. These mechanics are the responsibility of the bureaucracy. It is the bureaucracy that is supposed to communicate the government’s decisions, and it’s the bureaucracy that is supposed to advise the government on who their target audience is and how to best reach that target audience. This is why the GoA has a public affairs bureau, and this is why every ministry has a communications department. Now, possibly the NDP didn’t go to the bureaucrats soon enough, maybe the communication broke down there. I honestly don’t know that. However, it is absolutely the bureaucracy’s job to ensure that the people of Alberta understand the rules that the government makes, how the rules apply to them. There may well be dropped threads in the NDP caucus communications department (which is really small by the way) but there are most definitely also a couple dropped threads in the public service. There’s a good chance that the real communication breakdown occurred way before anything went public when something went awry in the bureaucratic machinery that is supposed to keep government working for Albertans. See my earlier comment about the environmental scan.
Thirdly, there is some unacceptable hyperbole and histrionics going on about this bill. Mostly because the WRP needs to grow the hell up. I think probably there are some larger agribusinesses fanning the flames too, letting the smaller farmer be their foot soldiers. True, the communication ball was dropped, and farmers aren’t sure what the parameters of the bill are, but the hysteria is out of proportion. It’s a bald faced lie to blame this whole fiasco on lack of consultation. This is not the first time Alberta has tried to pull it’s agricultural sector into the modern world of labour rights and safety standards. Why did the farmers freak out last time? I am willing to bet it’s the same reason they are freaking out this time. They don’t want change, they don’t want to have to follow rules, and man, oh man, it sure is beginning to look to me like they just don’t care about anyone but themselves. It sounds like they want Alberta to leave every other business owner in Alberta to follow the rules and protect their workers, and let the farm workers remain at the mercy of luck. It comes across as pretty heartless. The farmers are losing my empathy.
Lastly, this bill needed to pass. This bill is necessary. This bill is the right thing to do. Part of living in an organized society means we all have to agree to follow the same rules because consistent treatment of all people throughout society is a necessary ingredient to peaceful society. Bill 6 brings in minimum standards for farm workers. The current minimum is zero, and that is not acceptable. The WRP is stirring up the pot of people who don’t support the NDP to begin with so they are predisposed to dislike everything the NDP does. It’s also a group that felt mistreated at the hands of the governments past and have, as a result, a general distrust of government. It’s easy politic points for them. Don’t forget, there was an uproar when Stelmach tried to bring in similar legislation. This isn’t anti-NDP, it’s anti-government. The fact that they are protesting the NDP is just a boon to the WRP and their right wing supporters.
Am I empathetic toward the farmers right now? No, I’m really not. I am totally on board that they should be communicated with and consulted. However, they need to pull back and look at the bigger picture. They are not being persecuted, they are being brought in line with the reality in every other province in Canada. Wailing and crying about the death of the family farm and holding placards that use the word genocide to reference this bill is offensive. Basically, when I see media covering the bill 6 protests in my minds eye it equates to a bunch of French peasants attacking a downed hot air balloon with pitch forks. Rabid anger fueled by irrational fear, and not much else.
That’s what I think.
To summarize: The do-gooders tried to do good, but forgot to include the dubious, and the shit disturbers stepped in and disturbed some dubious shit.