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1) Repeal Bill 6, Pass the Farm Freedom and Safety Act
Bill 6 and the supporting regulatory framework are intrusive, overly prescriptive, and undermine the competitiveness of Alberta’s agriculture industry. The NDP government introduced Bill 6 without consulting with the very people this legislation impacts most: farmers and ranchers, provoking massive opposition from Alberta producers.
While some large agricultural groups have subsequently been consulted in the development of regulations, grassroots farmers and ranchers across Alberta continue to oppose the Bill 6 regime and associated regulations. It has created additional costs, uncertainty, and complex new red tape mandates. Some smaller farm operators say that they now refuse to hire help because they are afraid of new legal requirements, meaning some aging farmers are working longer hours alone, hardly conducive to safety.
Many Alberta agricultural employers already offered their employees workplace insurance prior to the adoption of Bill 6. They report that the new law forced them to replace their broader private insurance coverage at lower premiums with mandatory Workers Compensation Board insurance, often with narrower coverage at higher premiums.
If elected, a UCP government will immediately launch comprehensive consultations with farmers, ranchers, agriculture workers and others on how best to balance the unique economic pressures of farming with the need for a common sense, flexible farm safety regime. The goal of these consultations will be to develop recommendations for the introduction of the Farm Freedom and Safety Act (FFSA), which will be passed into law in 2019. The FFSA will:
• Repeal Bill 6 (i.e. the 2015 Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.)
• Require employers to maintain workplace insurance for farm workers, but allow employers to choose whether to purchase insurance from the market or from the WCB as long as basic standards of coverage are met for such things as medical and return-to-work support services, and protection against loss of income.
• Exempt small farms from employment legislation, following the example of New Brunswick that exempts farms that “employ three or fewer employees over a substantial period of the year (not including family members).”1
• Ensure basic safety standards.
• Recognize that operating a farm is unlike operating a conventional business, and that farmers and ranchers require much greater flexibility in meeting employment standards.
• Minimize the red tape burden on farmers and ranchers.
2) Eliminate the Carbon Tax
Bill 1 of a future UCP government will be the Carbon Tax Repeal Act, which will immediately reduce input costs for typical Alberta farms and ranches by thousands of dollars per year.
3) Cut taxes on the agricultural sector
The UCP’s Job Creation Tax Cut2 will cut the general tax on business from 12 per cent to 8 per cent over four years. The second largest sectoral benefits of the Job Creation Tax Cut will go to the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, mining and oil and gas sectors, which are responsible for 200,000 jobs in Alberta. Their share of the tax relief will be worth $167 million. This will help Alberta agribusinesses hire new employees.
4) Cut red tape on agribusiness
As part of the UCP’s Red Tape Reduction Action Plan3 a UCP government will consult with the agricultural sector to reduce by one third the regulatory burden on the industry, and to move from a process to an outcome based regulatory model, wherever feasible.
5) Fight Back Against Attacks on Agriculture
There are growing attacks from well-funded special interests against our livestock industries, together with modern crop science and agricultural techniques. In many ways, these attacks resemble the campaign of vilification targeting Alberta’s energy industry in recent years. We must learn from the failure of government and industry to respond to the “Tarsands Campaign” and similar efforts. That is why a United Conservative government would work with the agriculture industry to develop and help lead a comprehensive communications strategy to tell the truth about our safe, ethical and environmentally responsible farming practices and products.
6) Fight for Market Access
Indian tariffs continue to block Alberta pea and lentil exports, while China recently restricted Canadian canola exports. A United Conservative government will exert pressure on the federal government to use all tools at its disposal to open these and other markets. In 2018 Jason Kenney travelled to India as Leader of the Opposition to lobby that government to eliminate tariffs. As Premier, he would continue to show similar leadership by taking Alberta’s free trade message to key export markets around the world.
7) Eliminate interprovincial trade barriers.
A UCP government will lead a national effort to eliminate interprovincial trade barriers as part of the Red Tape Reduction Action Plan.4
8) Ensure that farmers, not government, set key agriculture research priorities.
The UCP trusts farmers to decide what type of research would provide the most benefit. The intent of public research is to support the agricultural industry with long-term research goals, which help improve Alberta’s competitiveness.
9) Perform a comprehensive review of risk mitigation programs to ensure they are streamlined and delivering maximized benefits to agri-food industry participants while ensuring Albertans are getting the greatest value for their investment with the least exposure. This will include crop and livestock insurance programs.
10) Streamline the Alberta Agricultural Services Corporation so that it improves service and responsiveness to farmers.
11) Strengthen Property Rights by pursuing constitutional entrenchment of property rights, and adoption of an Alberta Property Rights Protection Act5.
12) Consultations on Land Sales – In order to replace good agricultural land being lost to urban expansion, a United Conservative government would cooperate with municipalities seeking auctions on parcels of Crown land for agricultural use, where appropriate. Such disposition of Crown land would be subject to consultation with First Nations communities and others. In one case, MacKenzie County seeks to complete an auction of about 100,000 acres. To put this request in perspective, there are approximately 100 million acres of Alberta Crown land.
Alberta’s agriculture industry helped to build our province, and under a United Conservative government it will be a key part of a prosperous economic future.
But right now our farmers and ranchers are going through trying times, made more difficult by NDP policies that have driven up costs and increased red tape. At the same time, our farm families are facing growing restrictions in key export markets like China and India.
Since the NDP came to office, employment in Alberta’s agriculture sector has fallen by 19 per cent. That’s 11,300 jobs that no longer exist. Alberta farm receipts for the first nine months of 2018 were down by nearly six per cent from the previous year.6
In 2017, Alberta’s agriculture and agri-food industry was worth $6.5 billion to the province’s economy with farm cash receipts totaling just over $14 billion. Meanwhile, food product manufacturing was Alberta’s largest manufacturing sector in 2016 according to the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters Association.
According to Canada’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth, Canada is the fifth largest global agri-food exporter in a world where increased incomes are creating significant opportunities for high quality food producers. With an abundance of clean water, arable land, and an educated entrepreneurial population, Alberta is in a tremendous position to lead in future agri-food industry growth.
The NDP Carbon Tax has imposed significant new input costs on farmers. While marked fuel is exempt from the carbon tax, many farm operations are spending thousands of dollars per year to pay the carbon tax on things like regular fuel required to haul products to market, natural gas to heat barns, propane to dry grain, and electricity to power equipment.7
Growing attacks on livestock industries by special interest groups, and increasingly by governments. NDP Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, for example, suggested that as a New Year’s Resolution, people should “eat less meat.”8 Her comment was reflective of a growing campaign to stigmatize and even tax meat consumption,9 which is not dissimilar from earlier campaigns attacking Canadian energy production.
Governments failing to maintain market access, witness China’s recent embargo imposed on Canadian canola10 and continued Indian tariffs on Canadian pees and lentils, both diplomatic failures of the federal government with no effective representation by the Government of Alberta.
Crowding out agricultural products from rail, while the NDP government spends $3.7 billion to lease 4,400 rail cars to transport oil in a move that will further displace rail capacity to get agricultural products to markets. In announcing this, the largest single expenditure in the history of the Government of Alberta, the Premier did not even mention the potential impact on other commodities, demonstrating that agriculture is at best an afterthought for this government.
Higher taxes have raised the cost of doing business for operators large and small. The NDP’s 20 per cent increase in taxes on employers, their support for higher CPP payroll taxes, higher WCB premiums, higher property taxes have all made Alberta agribusiness less competitive against international competitors, particularly as US tax rates have been declining.
Higher power prices have also increased input costs, particularly for larger scale agrifood businesses. This is the direct result of the NDP’s carbon tax, the rush to shut down modern coal plants, the bungled lawsuit over Power Purchasing Agreements, and growing subsidies for unreliable sources of electricity.
The NDP’s Bill 6 and subsequent legislation removed the exemption that farmers had for Employment Standards and Labour law, and Occupational Health and Safety Codes. The initial Bill 6 treated farms like any other business, and did not consider the unique working conditions on farms.
In 2017, the NDP introduced Bill 17 (Employment Standards and Labour law) and Bill 30 (Occupational Health and Safety codes). Bill 17 led to unreasonable hours of work (for farmers) and the right to unionize.
The reality is that farms have unpredictable work hours due to weather, animals, and crops. Forces outside an employers’ control determine hours of work. Overtime and weekly limits are not practical in an unpredictable industry.
Meanwhile, Bill 30 demanded mandatory WCB coverage even though many farms kept their private insurance provider, meaning farmers had to pay for unnecessary WCB premiums. Some codes were late changed to consider the unique working conditions on farms. However, an increase in the cost of regulatory compliance is diminishing the global competitiveness of Alberta’s agriculture industry. This will result in reduced job creation opportunities for the sector.
Research: Over the last two years, the NDP reviewed Alberta’s Agriculture research framework and created the Strategic Research and Development Program (SRDP). In 2018, a draft framework promoted a move away from a productivity and competitiveness system that famers encourage, to a government-directed system.
Bureaucracy: The NDP under SRDP removed Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) and Alberta Crop Industry Fund (ACIDF) that were well-run third-party agencies, and directed the decision-making within the department.