Bill Six? That’s a question that a lot of city dwellers might not be able to answer. But actually, it’s an NDP government piece of legislation called Bill 6, and it’s clear that what it means to the agricultural community that it’s aimed at, is a question that the government can’t answer either.
The NDP says that its purpose is to provide the same health and safety protections to farmworkers as are provided to industrial workers. But are farmworkers and industrial workers the same? I don’t think so.
Alberta’s NDP is a union government. I don’t mean that they are generally supported by union members, or that they are somewhat favourably disposed to unions. I mean that Rachel Notley’s NDP government is chockablock, top to bottom, made up of unionists, former union leaders, and left-wing activists. And of course the bureaucracy is unionized, and is mostly managed by ex-unionists. Talk about an alignment of the stars!
I always call myself an old farm boy from Consul, Saskatchewan, and while I’ve spent over 40 years in the city, my first 30, formative years, were spent on the farm. And boy was I naïve!
In 1963 I spent a few months in Calgary and discovered overtime. I worked at a car rental, and beginning in June they suddenly got really busy so they asked me to work longer hours. At the end of two weeks when I got my paycheck it was nearly double the usual number, so I went into the manager’s office and said they must’ve made a mistake.
The manager was quite amused and told me that I had worked over 150 hours the previous two weeks, and so they had not only paid me for the extra time, but paid me time and a half. Whoa! Dad needed to hear about this!
I ran into a more sobering side of unionism in the 1980s when our company developed a piece of equipment for one of the coal mines in British Columbia. I delivered the equipment and discovered that a minor adjustment had to be made so that it would fit correctly under the heavy haul trucks it was meant to service.
So I went to the tool crib, borrowed a pipe wrench, and turned a fitting a few degrees. Later, in his office, the shop supervisor – rather sheepishly – told me that I had nearly caused a “wobble” or mini strike because of what I’d done. Because, I’d done a plumber’s job! That was so far disconnected from the farm reality I’d grown up with that I still shake my head over it.
Because farmers must be truck drivers; tractor, combine, swather, and sprayer drivers; animal husbandry specialists; veterinarians; cowboys; carpenters, labourers, and yes, plumbers – all at once. Unionize that!
Paid farmworkers take agricultural jobs realizing that farming and ranching is a more dangerous occupation than accounting, or even carpentry, where – while you might climb on roofs, you do essentially the same thing every day. On the other hand, on a farm you might have to engage in half a dozen trades in the same day. But, that’s part of theappeal.
Unavoidably, farm children live more physically dangerous lives than most city kids, but they also live lives infinitely more engaged with nature and life’s reality than most city kids. I started driving a tractor when I was 10 years old, and was in 4H and responsible for raising a calf. But we didn’t have a TV until I was into my late teens, and video games were decades down the road, so I read.
Unionists are used to things that farmers can’t even dream of. They work 40 hours a week, and if they work more, they get overtime. On holidays, they get double time, or even more. They get an allowance for sick days and if they don’t take them during the work year, they can “bank” them and add them onto the end of their paid vacation time. And they get gold-plated benefits and pensions.
I don’t think that the NDP government introduced Bill 6 out of antipathy to farmers and ranchers, but out of sheer ignorance. They simply don’t know what they don’t know, and you’d have to visit Pluto to find creatures more divorced from the reality of farm life, than public sector unionists.
Unlike Justin Trudeau, I’m no fan of the current Chinese political system, let alone the way it was under Chairman Mao. In 1966 Mao instituted something called the Cultural Revolution where city folk were forced to move to the countryside to be educated in the glories of Marxism. It was immoral, insane, and a colossal failure.
But I think we could borrow elements of the idea. How about encouraging NDP politicians and their committed supporters to spend a week on a farm during seeding or harvest time, or on a ranch during calving season? And then, follow a small business owner around, hour by hour for a week.
I suspect that a confrontation with reality might lead to significant changes in policy on the part of the NDP government. Seriously, we could end up with the best government in Canada!