Shedding light on the new farm labour and safety regulations

AFA-David Myrol

David Myrol, a partner at McLennan Ross LLP, speaks to AGM delegates about farm labour and safety laws.

At the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA) Annual General Meeting in January, guest speaker David Myrol, a lawyer and partner with McLennan Ross LLP, shared his expertise on Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) law.

Myrol is a nationally-recognized expert practicing almost exclusively in OHS law and is involved with many of the leading OHS cases in Alberta. His take on the new Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act that came into force on January 1, 2016: it’s complicated.

“The devil is in the details,” Myrol said at the AFA AGM on January 21. “There are lots of grey areas, the legislation is not drafted clearly, and specific regulations will be passed in the future.”

Myrol sought to bring clarification to the producers in the room by sharing an overview of OHS. He also shared insight into what he has seen in Alberta during his time as OHS Crown Prosecutor.

“From my point of view, this legislation was inevitable,” he said. “OHS legislation was needed to protect workers employed by food producers who own large operations. I believe that the intent of the legislation is aimed more at that category of employer than the small family farm.”

Myrol explained that the OHS Act is an enforcement tool that is meant to “ensure the health and safety of workers as far as reasonably practicable”. The Act, Myrol explained, is administered by Alberta’s Ministry of Labour and gives broad powers to OHS Officers who can:

  • enter work sites
  • inspect and investigate work sites
  • seize and sample
  • compel statements

Officers can issue stop work orders, write tickets, issue administrative penalties, and impose fines and jail as a result of commencing a formal prosecution. Myrol says that the case law for the most part presumes guilt, and therefore it is the responsibility of those charged to prove due diligence. In Alberta, from 2004 to 2014, there have been between seven and twenty-two prosecutions per year, with penalties between $2,000 and $1.5 million.

Delegates at the AFA AGM were reminded by Myrol that the OHS Act is just one of the acts that the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act amended. The other legislation includes the Employment Standards Code, the Labour Relations Code and Workers’ Compensation Regulation.

Myrol said that much of the confusion occurred because the changes affected so many different areas. “To be fair to the government, these are tough areas to come up with language that gives absolute clarity for producers,” he said.

So what does this all mean for producers? In wrapping up, Myrol offered this advice: producers should answer the government’s call for input on how the changes are implemented. He strongly encouraged farmers and ranchers to get involved with the government consultation process and/or give feedback to the government directly or through industry and safety associations.

The Alberta government recently announced they are establishing six discussion roundtables to work with the agriculture community and other stakeholders in developing regulations in this area. More information can be found on the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry website.

Celebrating Food Freedom Day 2016

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The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) raises awareness of the agriculture and food industry each year by celebrating Food Freedom Day, the date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay for their annual grocery bill.

This year, Food Freedom Day falls 40 days into the year, on Tuesday, February 9. For 2016, this date is three days later than in 2015 due to a slight increase in the price of food. It’s estimated that Canadians will spend 11% of their disposable income on food in 2016, compared to 10.4% the previous year.

“While we have definitely seen the price of groceries going up recently, we have to remember that we have a very secure and abundant food supply in Alberta and across our country,” says AFA Director Grace MacGregor, who farms near Hughenden, Alberta. “That is certainly something to celebrate compared to many places in the world.”

Canadians enjoy one of the lowest food costs worldwide

The CFA indicates that Canada consistently ranks 5th in the world for cheapest food costs. Slightly higher food costs this year are due to a weaker Canadian dollar. That’s increased the cost of grocery items that are imported into Canada like nuts, vegetables and fruits.

So how can we help keep those grocery prices in line with our family’s budget while still maintaining a strong local food system? MacGregor has this advice:

  • purchase products available in winter thanks to Alberta’s greenhouse growers, like red peppers, cucumbers or carrots
  • buy foods that are in-season as much as possible (see note below about the Explore Local website)
  • preserve or freeze summer-fresh fruits and vegetables when prices are lower
  • contact a local livestock producer who can provide fresh or frozen meat products year-round
  • incorporate items into your diet that are available year-round, like artisan cheeses, eggs, honey, barley, yogurt, pulses (beans, peas and lentils), dried herbs and butter.

MacGregor notes that it’s important for all of us to understand that taking these steps as consumers means we can positively impact our Canadian food system. She says those looking for great information on sourcing local food in Alberta, and even how to figure out what’s in season, should visit the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Explore Local website.

For MacGregor, buying locally produced foods can also have added benefits for the environment. “We live in a global marketplace where it is possible to buy a pineapple from the Philippines or Brazil year-round. These choices can mean higher grocery costs, but can also result in a larger environmental footprint because of the distance these specialty foods need to travel.”

“Albertans have amazing choices for buying locally-sourced products,” MacGregor adds. “We’re lucky to live in such an abundant province.”

For more information on Food Freedom Day, visit the CFA website: http://www.cfa-fca.ca/programs-projects/food-freedom-day-2016. Interested in how Food Freedom Day is calculated? Click here to see!