Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Dear Rachel

Dear Rachel Noltey,

You should know that I’m not mad.

First, let me clarify – we were never going to agree on a lot of things. I’m a fairly conservative minded individual. I like it when our natural resources are developed in order to boost our economy, as that means we can do more good as a province. I like it when the government has less influence in society, and serves as more of a moderator for the big issues. The NDP is pretty much on the other side of the spectrum. And that’s fine. We don’t have to agree.

When you were elected as the Alberta premier, I was a bit disappointed. Sure, you would not have been my first choice, or second or probably even third. But you won, and there’s not much I can do if I didn’t vote. I’ve been stuck in Saskatchewan for the last year-ish, so I’ve settled as an observer. And initially, I was somewhat optimistic about Alberta’s future. I expected the NDP to implement some more liberal policies while in power, but I also figured that an NDP government wouldn’t try to upset too much of what a long standing Conservative government had previously set up. Alberta had a conservative leader for over 40 years, and the people supporting them don’t just disappear. So, a smart government would work with the conservative-minded Albertans while trying to change some things they can. I can accept that.

But we immediately got off on the wrong foot when your new cabinet was announced. Of the new leaders listed, none of them were from Alberta or represented Alberta values. Some weren’t even Canadians. It was obvious from the get-go that the NDP’s had one agenda, and that was against the oil sands. That thing that has helped Alberta become one of the most prosperous provinces in Canada. Now, I don’t want to say that what they do is perfect; everyone can improve. But when you bring in outsiders who have no real experience with Alberta’s oil sands, then I know your province’s best interests are not central to your platform. Then you went ahead and said that Alberta was the embarrassing cousin that no one wants to talk about.

That pretty much sealed the deal for me.

You’re the leader of our province. Show some pride in the fact you grew up here. Sure, we may need to improve in some areas, especially if you are of a liberal mindset, but having so much extra money that the premier gives each citizen 400 bucks is a sign of prosperity. So someone was doing something right.

Anyways, you seemed to quiet down after that. Made some big statements, then cooled down. And again, I was cautiously optimistic. Being a future teacher, I see the benefits of having an NDP government in power, as more money will go to hiring new teachers. That sounds good for me. I would like a job eventually.

But now this happened.

This, being Bill 6 and the new Carbon Tax. From what I’ve read, these things are incredibly harmful to Albertans. First, the Carbon Tax is going to put a tax on everything. Not only oil and gas, but everything you buy. Alberta has long prided itself on not having a PST, and that helps boost our economy (I’d imagine) as during the holidays, some people from neighboring provinces come to us to buy things. But if it happens, that’s not the absolute worst thing. You kinda get used to it, like I have in Saskatoon.

Bill 6 makes me mad, though. Through the implementation of union laws, the family farm, where I and thousands of other Albertans grew up, is practically ruined. On paper, the bill looks fairly good. It wants to provide health and safety to farm workers, just like every other job. That sounds alright. But under the pretty surface, you find something a little darker and scarier. To make things safer, child labour laws are implemented, meaning kids can’t legally help out with the farm. They’d need to pass certain courses to be able to operate the machinery, rather than learn from parents and grandparents. They wouldn’t learn the value of hard work because it was their responsibility. Instead, with this bill, they’d be treated as employees.

Ok, so maybe having kids not work on a farm is a good thing, you might think. There’s lots of dangerous machinery and lots of kids have gotten injured or killed in accidents. But if they are treated as employees, then farms have to pay more money to unions and other organizations in order to get the manpower they require. Young workers would receive a salary, which would come from the farm, so they would need to have money for that. Then hours per day comes into effect. Breaks, holidays, etc. Do you know how many holidays wheat or cattle take? None. So guess who else doesn’t take holidays. That would be the farmers who care for them.

Sorry cows. No food today. It’s Christmas.

Farmers learn to be safe enough for the job they’re doing. They knew the risks. Sometimes, accidents happen. But you live and learn. That’s life. And that’s what living on a farm is like. It’s not a job. It’s life. You wake up on the farm, you eat the farm, you breathe the farm, and you sleep on the farm. It doesn’t stop when the work day does.

Now, I emailed the government expressing my opposition to this bill, and they actually sent me a response. I was impressed, to say the least. They said that some amendments were being put in place to clarify that only farms with paid employees would be affected. Family farms would stay just as they are. Farmers can opt in to WCB if they choose to, just like it is now, and nothing is stopping neighbors from helping out or teaching your kids about farming or doing 4H.

Oh, well, that sounds better.

Or does it?

The first thought that I came up with is what is classified as a family farm? A company that has no paid employees? That seems to be the case according to the NDP. So where does that leave my family’s ranch? For most of the year, we don’t have paid employees. But then at harvest, we hire some neighbors to help out, and during the summer, we kids have been paid to work odd jobs around the yard and pastures. Are they considered employees? Does that negate us from being a family farm? We are by no means a large operation compared with much of Alberta. These changes would hurt us if applied, as well as many other farms and ranches that live in our area and do much of the same thing.

The email also mentioned amending the work hours to take into account the seasonal aspect of the job. But that tells me that you just don’t get it. A farmer is ALWAYS a farmer. They get holidays when someone else looks after things for a while, or its winter and they don’t have cattle. And there was no mention regarding age limits on work. Just that they would still be allowed to “teach their children” about farming and ranching. Does that include the experience gained through helping out? Or is that considered child labour now?

So there’s still holes in your Bill, Ms. Notley. But instead of stepping back and re-evaluating the piece of legislation, you’ve decided to go right on ahead despite the numerous protests and public outcry this has caused. You’ve decided to make the changes on the fly, rather than take the time to talk with people who this will affect. Do you care at all for the southern part of your province? Because it sure seems like you don’t.

Of course farming and ranching practices can be improved. We can always be improving. But this isn’t improving. This is…well, I’m not sure what you’re doing, and a lot of other Albertans share my sentiments. And you know what takes the cake? You've been so preoccupied with this and all these other huge pieces of legislation that you haven't done the one thing I expected the NDP's to do: help out the teachers. 

So I’m not mad, Mrs. Notley. I’m disappointed.  

You should know better.

But apparently, you don’t. 

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