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Alberta Diary

djclimenhaga's picture
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Former Tory labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk enters farm safety fray with 'Bill 6 Taskforce'

| December 20, 2015
Thomas Lukaszuk

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Former Alberta Progressive Conservative deputy premier and labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk, two lawyers and three accountants have formed a "Bill 6 Implementation Advisory Taskforce" that Lukaszuk says in a letter to farmers and operators of other agricultural enterprises can help ensure the NDP Government's controversial Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act is implemented in a way that minimizes "the damage inflicted by Bill 6."

In an electronic letter to about 50 officials of Alberta agricultural operations and producers' associations, a copy of which has been obtained by AlbertaPolitics.ca, Lukaszuk described the intentions of the group made up of himself, lawyer John M. Hope of the firm Duncan Craig LLP, lawyer Dwayne Chomyn of the firm Neuman Thompson, and Chartered Accountants Scott Dickson, Gord Tait and Michelle O'Brien-Moran, all of MNP LLP, a national accounting firm based in Calgary.

The Dec. 15 email from Lukaszuk to the agricultural groups is sure to ruffle feathers among representatives of the NDP government, the official Opposition and organized labour.

The government of Premier Rachel Notley is already concerned because it wishes to discourage activities that could be interpreted as an effort by consultants or lobbyists to deal with the government on behalf of individuals or organizations. The NDP prefers to deal directly with such individuals and organizations itself.

The Wildrose Party is likely to be unhappy to see a former high-profile PC MLA and cabinet member who lost his seat in the May 5 election getting involved in an issue the Opposition party has been using to attack the government and portray it as not acting in the interests of the farm community.

Organized labour will also be displeased with involvement in this issue by a former minister who labour leaders view as unsympathetic to unions, as well as a lawyer, Chomyn, who worked closely with Lukaszuk on proposed changes to labour law that were strenuously and ultimately successfully opposed by unions.

The letter suggests Lukaszuk's "task group" intends to urge the government to perpetuate working practices labour leaders have pressed the NDP and previous governments to end. Some of the proposals noted in the letter are certain to be strongly opposed by unions.

The letter describes Lukaszuk, Hope, Chomyn, Dickson, Tait and O'Brien as "a task group of well qualified and experienced professionals with agricultural backgrounds coalesced in order to analyze the impact of Bill 6 on individual producers and all sectors of the industry, assess the Bill's financial and operational implications, develop a strategy to assist the Government in drafting practical Regulations and develop a communications strategy particularly aimed at urban Alberta."

"It is vital that we provide guidance to government on how to minimize the negative impact of such rush enforcement (sic)," the letter also states, continuing: 'We also hope to serve as a resource to the industry and individual producers relevant to developing strategies on how to deal with the impact of the new laws."

"More so than ever before," Lukaszuk's letter warns its recipients, "Alberta's agricultural producers now need a unified position and must speak whenever possible with 'one voice'."

The letter states that Lukaszuk's group "has met with the Offices of the Ministers of Agriculture and Jobs Skills Training & Labour (JSTL) and with the Deputy Minister of JSTL," although officials did not expect Lukaszuk and his colleagues to be at the meeting when they sat down with producer group representatives to discuss Bill 6 a couple of days before it was passed by the Legislature on Dec. 10.

Moreover, civil servants involved in that meeting are certain to have taken issue with the letter's claim "the task group has developed a working relationship with the Deputy Minister and is now in the process of determining a mechanism for collaborative drafting of Regulations."

In response to my query about this statement, Lukaszuk told me yesterday in a Twitter message that "we met with DM and MNP will provide the department with suggestions for Regulations."

Lukaszuk also said he has not registered with the province's Lobbyist Registry because he does not expect to perform the specified threshold of 100 hours of lobbying per year as set out in the Lobbyists Act. "I'm not planning on engaging in lobbying."

The letter lists seven issues it says the "task group" will address:

  1. Developing regulations that distinguish between arms-length and non-arms-length employment. While family farms are unlikely to be impacted by Bill 6, the letter notes, "it is unfortunate that this will not provide any relief whatsoever to the operations that employ independent arms-length employees."
  2. Ensuring Workers Compensation Board policies are developed "in direct collaboration with the agricultural industry."
  3. Reviewing the Employment Standards Code to determine regulations "appropriate and reasonable for the agriculture industry." Normal overtime pay, the email says, "just isn't practical in the industry."
  4. Implementation of a farm safety standard that "does not become a huge cost and administrative burden to Alberta farms and ranches."
  5. Imposing an "essential services" ban on strikes in agriculture during "crucial seasonal time periods."
  6. Excluding farm equipment under Occupational Health and Safety regulations.
  7. Implementing similar exemptions to employment standards regulations as those proposed by the group for OH&S rules.

Lukaszuk's letter concludes: "So where from here? We hope that this coordinated, nonpartisan and results oriented response to this unprecedented challenge will be of interest to you and your membership and that you will consider joining your partners in agriculture in speaking with one voice. We are confident that this approach will be the most effective one, considering the complexity of the matter and limited deadlines.

"At this time, we are interested in meeting with you, learning of your industry's individual concerns and working with you to preserve the viability and competitiveness of Alberta's agriculture industry."

Before entering politics, Lukaszuk for seven years operated a consulting firm for Workers Compensation Board claimants, Injured Workers' Advocates Inc.

As the PC MLA for the Edmonton-Castle Down riding, he served in various posts in the cabinets of premiers Ed Stelmach, Alison Redford, for whom he was deputy premier, and Dave Hancock.

In the summer of 2014, Lukaszuk ran for the leadership of the PC Party against Jim Prentice and Ric McIver.

Prentice won, named a cabinet that did not include Lukaszuk, and led the 44-year Tory dynasty to a humiliating defeat at the hands of Notley's NDP on May 5, 2015. McIver is now acting leader of the nine-member PC caucus.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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