By Trevor Busch
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter was recently named the Wildrose Alliance Party’s official critic for Jobs, Skills, Training, Labour and Red Tape Reduction.
“We’re Mr. Sunshine here — we call it shadow cabinet minister,” said Hunter, in reference to the Wildrose’s nom de guerre for critic positions. “I think it’s an important portfolio right now, there’s a couple of big issues that are coming up.”
Hunter weighed in on the minimum wage question for Albertans that factored prominently as an NDP campaign promise in spring election campaign.
“First of all, the NDP government wants a $15 per hour minimum wage. That’s probably going to affect small businesses more than it will big businesses, and so I think that’s definitely going to affect our constituency and Albertans alike. So that’s something that we need to have a bit of a more fulsome talk on. I hope that they’re not as dogmatic in their approach to this, and take a look at some of the statistics that are out there, about how it can be detrimental to a community and also to an economy.”
Another political hot potato will likely be question marks surrounding just how far the NDP’s promised labour legislation for farm workers will go, and if there should be a two-tiered coverage threshold between large corporate farms and smaller family-run operations.
“Another big one — this has been worked on for a while now — is Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Workman’s Compensation for farm labour,” said Hunter. “Those two issues are going to be front and centre pretty quickly. I have had an opportunity to sit down with the ag minister, and he’s assured me that there will be multiple consulations prior any decision either way. However, he did say at the end that you can be assured that we will go forward with what our campaign promises were. I’m not sure how those two things work together, but that’s what he said.”
Although the party is still formulating an official policy approach to the farm labour question, according to Hunter a uniform policy that governs small and large farms under the same axis would be largely unworkable.
“We have two types of farms — we have big commercial operations and the mom and pop farms. Applying the same kind of Workman’s Compensation or OHS rules to both of those farms, we don’t think is actually a smart idea. It would be difficult for the mom and pop farms to do well, so we think there needs to be some thought into that. We do know we need to make sure that all of our labour is taken care of and watched over, but in the same sense, we need to make sure that the rules are a little different for those two different entities.”