"So which ones are the boys, and which ones are the girls?"
That was the question I was asked 13 years ago, when a small family of city slickers came to visit my family's little cow-calf operation of 50 head. It took me half an hour to explain to this lady the difference between heifer, bull and steer. They almost learned the hard way that you don't walk between a cow and her calf, especially if you are a stranger and the calf is new.
Around 8 years before that, I remember an individual from school visiting our acreage for a party of some kind who decided he thought it wise to try out an experiment with an electric fence. So he urinated on it.
I haven't seen him since high school, so I have no idea if he has kids.
When I think of Bill 6, I see this exact same kind of lack of understanding about farm operations. When I read that an NDP MLA advised ranchers to turn out their bulls only during the daytime to ensure daytime calving 10 months later, I wasn't shocked. They, like the city slicker asking about boy and girl cows and the teenager testing his tallywagger, just don't get it.
When I read Bill 6, it too was just too simple. It felt like someone had said "just take the farmers' exemption out of the other legislation, that'll do the trick." However, the variety of agricultural operations that exist require more effort in order to understand the problem before trying to fix it.
And make no mistake, there is a problem. With an average of over 20 farm-related deaths every year, and an average of 25 hospitalizations for every death, farms are dangerous places. I can recall multiple times a hospitalization was required for a member of my family from farm work. I also consider that my family's was largely a hobby farm; we were by no means a large cattle operation, and we didn't delve into the large-scale agricultural practice of producing crops. I can only imagine the dangers that lurk there.
If there is any agricultural operator in Alberta, family, commercial or otherwise, that opposes Bill 6 because they don't want protections for their workers, then I have a problem with those operators. That is particularly un-Albertan, so I doubt that is the case.
However simply using whiteout to previous legislation shows a complete lack of understanding. It reminds me too much of the old blonde joke "how do you know a blonde has been using your computer - there's whiteout on the screen." They simply just don't understand what they're working with.
By the way, I have nothing against blondes, they are a perfectly good breed of beef animal. Blonde d'Aquitaine.
Even politically speaking, the NDP should have known better. Like the teenager urinating on the electric fence, they should have done a tiny bit more research before introducing this bill. Had they done that tiny bit of research, they would have recalled the reaction farmers had with Bill 36 in 2009, which became the Alberta Land Stewardship Act. Farmers, rightly, boiled. They did so because they were not consulted on the bill. As a friend of mine put it, "politics was done to them, not with them."
The Alberta NDP do not have a reputation as being the voices of farmers, having only just broken into rural Alberta this past election (and perhaps for different reasons than being the voice of farmers). A party that needs to prove they are the voice of all Albertans should ensure they consult with the Albertans they are less familiar with, in an attempt to bring them onside. It should have been a perfect opportunity for the NDP to connect with farmers. Instead, the lack of consideration has driven them away.
This is particularly dangerous. It means that the important work of protecting employees of agricultural operations will be lost in the din. Farmers were being treated as too simple. Like the teenager who urinated on the fence, the NDP are being shocked, which makes me shake my head, because it would have taken little effort for them to know better.
If Bill 6 passes, farmers need to push for regulations that make sense. If the Wildrose is successful in convincing the NDP to put the bill to a committee, farmers need to push for farm workers' rights while protecting the viability of all agricultural operations.
Either way the work, quite simply, isn't finished.
Update on November 25, 2015: I have received a response to my letter from the Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee. According to her response, she is discussing these issues with Justice Minister Ganley. I am very pleased to receive such a swift response from Minister Larivee on this topic.
Early this morning I sent a letter to Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley regarding Bill 5, the Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act. The fine line between transparency and personal privacy is being blurred by this bill.
If Bill 5 is passed as is, educational bodies and municipal authorities will have to disclose the salaries of every single one of their employees, along with their names. That includes the librarian, the garbage truck operator, and the guy painting the crosswalk lines that drivers seem to be blind to. It also includes the educational assistants, the school janitor and the cafeteria staff. Teachers would be included as well, which just adds a redundancy, as their salaries and contracts are already reported completely in public.
This bill's purpose is to report the highest salaries in the public sector, with the intention of making sure we spend wisely on our human resources. So to name the lowest salaries as eligible for reporting is not only unnecessary, but it is also an attack on personal privacy. That fine line, or as it is named in the bill, "threshold" between highly- and lowly-paid is already arbitrarily set, but to ignore it for educational bodies and municipal authorities further blurs the lines between accountability and the respect for personal privacy.
What did schools and cities do to earn this segregation from other public sector bodies?
This is why I sent a letter to Ganley, and in Alberta Party fashion, offered an alternative. The alternative comes in the form of a proposed amendment to Bill 5, which would set the "threshold", or the fine line, for educational bodies and municipal authorities. This would align them with all the other public sector bodies named in the bill. It would remove the discrimination against educational bodies and municipal authorities.
It is the role of government to protect public interests. Transparency so as to protect our public dollars is one. Personal privacies are another. Right now, personal privacies are being blurred out.
It was a strange coincidence that in my Science class yesterday I was teaching my Grade 7 students about the agriculture industry in the Dirty Thirties the same day U.S. President Obama nixed a major oil export project.
I was describing to these students how the agriculture industry killed the agriculture industry. Farmers sought to turn more soil to produce more food, and in doing so loosened up too much, leaving soil very susceptible to erosion. This eventually caused the agriculture industry to collapse, and the entire economy that was dependent on that single industry collapsed with it, hence the name “Dirty Thirties”. With no backup industry to help it recover until the arrival of another war, recovery was a painfully long road.
Of course this is an oversimplification, but the lesson was supposed to be direct and to a point. It occurred to me that we were seeing that exact same issue today, but the industry isn’t agriculture. It’s oil.
Keystone XL is a pipeline project that was intended to pump oil from the Alberta oilsands to the U.S. for processing. This oil is currently being transported by rail, an obviously dangerous prospect. Today, U.S. President Obama not only rejected the project, he rebuked what he called “dirty oil”.
Immediately pundits from around North America belaboured that “dirty oil” phrase, including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. They are certainly right that Alberta’s oilsands are not, as characterized by many U.S. officials and celebrities, the “dirtiest oil on the planet”. Certainly the pipeline would be environmentally safer, and exceptionally so, than rail transport. But that is now entirely beside the point.
The true point is that in one very public announcement, President Obama has set the stage for a shift in major industries. The oil industry is not the way of the future anymore. This has been suggested for a while now, but Obama’s announcement was basically the same as ordering the oil industry’s coffin.
If Alberta isn’t careful, it’s headed for another Dirty Thirties. Any region whose economy depends on oil as its main industry with no other independent industry capable of carrying it through the oil industry’s collapse is in for a major coma. It is not a case of “if”. It is a case of “when”. And with Obama’s announcement, “when” just got a whole lot closer.
Meanwhile conservatives both North and South of the 49th parallel are indignantly crying over whose fault it is. They defiantly defend their economic baby. The fight is not over, cry Republicans, calling Democrats tone-deaf on the issue. It’s Canada’s new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fault for pulling out of Syria, cries top Canadian Conservatives. TransCanada (the company behind Keystone XL) is considering reapplying. Notley talks about engaging in other projects that will get oil exported elsewhere, and distracts by talking about climate change (an important consideration, but still misses the point). Few are actually talking about the elephant in the room.
That elephant is that oil is dying. In Alberta, there is no new generational industry to take up its mantle. We’re risking “dirty oil” becoming Alberta’s reprise of the Dirty Thirties.
Suddenly the introduction of the new Economic Diversification Ministry in Alberta is not only important, it is necessary to ensure our economy does not end up on life support. I'm curious to see what that next industry is. Clean energy? Agriculture?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m exceptionally disappointed with Obama’s announcement. Oil is already on its way to the U.S., Keystone XL would have made that journey far safer. And our world is based on oil right now. We can’t buy the future at the expense of the present.
However, it would be worse to ignore the future altogether.
It's official. The world is changing. Is Alberta ready to change with it?
If we aren't, when will we wake up from the coma?
The latest in the long line of Ministers of Municipal Affairs is perfectly positioned politically to connect with this conservative constituency. But it’s going to take more than announcements to truly connect. If there is to be a redeemer for this infamous ministerial position, it might just be Danielle Larivee.
Larivee, recently minted Minister of Municipal Affairs, becomes the sixth Minister of Municipal Affairs since the 2013 Floods, and the latest to inherit the DRP Disaster. That is a new boss every 4.5 months, or 19 weeks. Marginally longer than the average probationary period for a job at Tim Horton's.
Newly appointed Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee, who made an announcement in High River this morning about fixing the many issues still unresolved after the 2013 Floods, stands to the right of Premier Rachel Notley. On Notley's left is the most recent victim of the infamous ministerial position, Deron Bilous.
Following the provincial election in the spring we were expecting the NDP to appoint a saviour for the flood victims who would oversee DRP’s repairs and the completion of mitigation projects. Apparently the title Minister of Municipal Affairs is filled with bad joo joo, and Deron Bilous was shifted out of the job, just like his four predecessors.
It’s this premonition I am most worried about. Thankfully Minister Larivee is actively combatting those bad omens.
Today she announced $30 million in funding for the various mitigation projects on the Highwood River, the most significant of which is the southwest berm, a project High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass has deemed of the utmost importance. In addition, she has also committed to studying upstream and downstream mitigation to prevent further disasters. The Deltares reports have been used to reaffirm that diversion is not the best option, and represents a good decision and initiative started by the previous PC Government.
Minister Larivee has also stated a number of fixes to the DRP program. One of those fixes was that every file that was paid a little too much (likely from the 90% advance promised by Jim Prentice) will be able to keep that money if it was under $5000. For those who were given over $5000 too much, other arrangements need to be made. Larivee also said she was looking for complete closure of all DRP files by June 20, 2016. She indicated that DRP will take “a proactive approach to establishing contact with” the people whose files have remained inactive, likely because the applicant isn’t calling the province back. There are plenty of reasons why they wouldn’t call the province back, all of them legitimate, so it is great to hear that the government will seek them out rather than waiting for contact themselves. This should also allay fears that DRP will close files prematurely, and show care, consideration and compassion for the remaining applicants.
Much of this is good news. It means her hands are on the files, and she is actively seeking completion in this area of her ministry. I feel the need to apply a bit of pressure, as she is after all the sixth person tasked with this. To be clear, after having talked with Minister Larivee briefly, she is very aware that nobody wants yet another person in charge, and she wants to be the one to finish the job. That in and of itself is a huge plus, and if she gets it done, she could be considered the redeemer of that infamous ministerial position's bad joo joo.
The pressure has to be on three issues.
Time will tell how serious Minister Larivee is about getting this job done. The metric to be watching for is how hands-on she remains. Her predecessor didn’t. Maybe Larivee can rebuild some bridges, both literally and figuratively, and while she’s at it, make connections between the NDP Government and people out here in conservative country.
We want to trust our government. We need a reason to. Minister Larivee is perfectly positioned to give us that reason. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs is in big need of redeeming. So I’m watching.
And I’m hoping.