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"Attitude has changed": Agriculture minister addresses beef conference

Speaking at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference on Thursday, Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier opened the floor to questions.

Not a soul in the audience of several hundred at the Sheraton Red Deer rose. Not a peep was heard about the government’s controversial farm workers safety legislation.

For those who attended the raucous Dec. 1 meeting on Bill 6 at Westerner Park, the silence now may be surprising.

But Carlier said since those early days he has attended many annual general meetings in the last 10 weeks and isn’t seeing that “sense of protest” anymore.

“It happened before Christmas. After Christmas, it was a totally different tone right off the bat.

“Attitude has changed,” he said, adding that many have now come to realize that many of the restrictions they feared were never proposed in the legislation.

“There was never any danger a 4-H program would be in jeopardy or the family farm. They realize now this is about waged non-family workers and their level of protection.”

That’s not to say that many still don’t have questions or criticism of proposed regulations and Occupational Health and Safety standards, he said. Specific regulations will be worked out after a series of working groups comprised of a cross-section of interested players have met this year and reported back to government.

“I want to stress that we will be taking the time — whatever time is necessary — to make sure we get it right.”

In his speech, Carlier acknowledged the challenging economic times, but sees an important role for agriculture, its diversity and $9 billion in annual exports in Alberta’s recovery.

It is a rebound the government does not want to postpone with drastic cuts to services or front-line workers, he said.

In the beef industry, a major positive development was the U.S.’s dropping of country of origin labelling, which unnecessarily added millions to Canadian producers’ costs.

Carlier also hinted at pending improvements to a loan program designed for feedlots. The program, in place in various forms since the 1930s, involves the government guaranteeing loans from financial institutions to feeder associations. The program is currently capped at $55 million.

Feedlot owners are looking for more flexibility in the program to allow them to leverage the current good pricing in beef. An announcement is expected soon, he said.

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