By Tim Kalinowski
Alberta’s cattlefeeding industry is welcoming a new government in Alberta, and is optimistic some of its longstanding concerns may begin to be addressed by the Kenney government.
“Our members were certainly happy to see the election results, and I think the rural population, particularly, of Alberta there was really strong support for the new government,” says Janice Tranberg, CEO and president of the Alberta Cattle Feeders Association.
“There is a number of issues we would like to see the new government address. But really at the top of our list is a commitment to funding for municipal infrastructure. We know that is certainly a need for some of our members.
“We would also like to see some changes to the implementation to Occupational Health and Safety, particularly allowing more farmers flexibility to choose their own service providers as opposed to being mandated to use the one service provider (WCB).”
Tranberg says her members are supportive of the idea that all agriculture businesses should be mandated to have some form of liability insurance to protect themselves and their employees, and that they conform to strong safety standards.
“You want to make it attractive for workers to come, and I don’t think reducing safety standards is the way to go,” she says of the UCP government’s plan to repeal and replace Bill 6. “From what I have heard from my members the issue is more that they provide some pretty darn excellent benefits because they are trying to attract people. They don’t just want people to come to work for awhile, but to actually come, stay and live and be part of the community.
“In order to do that they provide some really good benefits to employees,” she explains. “The problem is when the new standards came in, and they could only use WCB, a lot them were offering packages to their employees that were better than WCB.
“So they now had to provide both packages to get their employees to stay. I think that’s where the flexibility (of a choice between public or private insurance) comes back into it.
“However, we need to have as an industry good safety standards,” she acknowledges. “We need to ensure our workers are safe when they are working. I believe our members would continue to advocate for very strong safety standards.”
Tranberg says the issue of liability is one for each of her members to calculate based on their own operations and tolerance for risk.
Besides these issues, Tranberg says she also hopes the new UCP government takes action to help streamline and enhance the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program. There is a critical labour shortage in the cattle industry and agriculture as a whole, she says, and such programs would make it easier to find and retain the dedicated labour the industry needs.
“Our members want to be sure they will be able to continue to bring in foreign workers,” she says, “and then also to help those foreign workers move into more permanent residences.”
Tranberg says besides these labour issues the cattlefeeding industry would also like to see some work done by the government to help with untangling the regulatory regimes of various jurisdictions in Alberta.
“This whole issue is convoluted and complicated,” she says, “and there are many different perspectives and different regulations enforced in different areas.
“One of the things we are doing as an organization is diving deeper to understand what are the regulations and what are the areas where the province could provide some direction and change to help. This idea of various municipalities imposing new bylaws on our industry is one of our biggest concerns.”
But what might go even further to help her industry in this regard is a dedication from the UCP government to stable and increasing funding for all rural municipalities, which are where cattle feeders operate.
“In rural areas with a smaller population base we provide an important service to the entire economy,” states Tranberg, “and we feel that’s something which needs to be getting greater attention to understand that.
“If we don’t have the roads, we don’t have the Internet, and those other requirements necessary to our businesses, we are not going to be able to provide that service. Municipalities raising taxes is not necessarily the right approach in the long term either.
“So can we get some more funding directed to improve this essential infrastructure in our rural communities?”
Tranberg says only time will tell whether or not the UCP will heed this call to action on increased rural infrastructure funding. Politics, after all, remain politics no matter who forms government, she says.
“I would say there is good interest from the new government; that’s as much as I would say on that— with more discussions to follow.”