On Monday, October 1st, 2012 The Medicine Hat News published a letter to the editor from Don Weisbeck, the former mayor of Brooks and past president of the Wildrose Alliance Strathmore- Brooks constituency association.
“Around Alberta: MLAs have shown that intelligence does not come with the position. A few weeks back I mocked Alberta MLA David Swann for asking Frito-Lay (a division of PepsiCo) to boycott Alberta grown potatoes. Swann was reacting to left wing lobbyists who want child labour regulations applied to the family farm. It seems that Swann, the former provincial Liberal leader, was not aware that most of this so-called child labour was actually performed by members of the family that owned the farm.
Imposing regulations that would limit the hours that family members put in at planting and harvest time, in particular, would at least be ridiculous and at most jeopardize an entire way of life. Further, if one felt that some regulations should apply, why would you punish the farmer for the inaction of the provincial government?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we are unique in the predominance of non-thinkers at the political level.”
Mr. Weisback is intentionally misconstruing the issue and is also showing either ignorance or complete contempt for the real issues: paid farmworkers have no protection under Occupational Health and Safety, the Labour Code, and WCB and there are no child labour standards. We are not talking about family farms where members of the family work; Mr Weisback deliberately follows the government line on this. It is unfortunate indeed that after decades of pressing the government to enact these basic protections for paid farmworkers they continue to balk. Most Albertans want their food producers to protect human rights, the Alberta Bill of Rights and the Canadian Constitution as they apply to all employees. We are therefore forced to challenge Pepsi/Fritolay to abide by its own ethical procurement policy and not purchase products from operations that use child labour. If Mr Weisbeck has a better approach to getting the attention of this government on these 19thcentury labor standards I would welcome it.
What is inappropriate is the use of children as young as 8 in commercial or industrial agricultural operations completing tasks that are far more dangerous than those that would be completed by a child of similar age in a family farm environment. Since these large operations are subject to the same exemption that applies to family farms they do not need to abide by Occupational Health & Safety regulations that other commercial and industrial operations across the province must abide by.
I hope in the future Mr Weisbeck will make an attempt at accurately reflecting the comments of others, even if he personally disagrees with them.