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Meatpacking, Refugees and the Transformation of Brooks, Alberta By Michael Broadway Visiting Fulbright Scholar Department of Rural Economy University of.

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Presentation on theme: "Meatpacking, Refugees and the Transformation of Brooks, Alberta By Michael Broadway Visiting Fulbright Scholar Department of Rural Economy University of."— Presentation transcript:

1 Meatpacking, Refugees and the Transformation of Brooks, Alberta By Michael Broadway Visiting Fulbright Scholar Department of Rural Economy University of Alberta

2 Purpose To explain the restructuring of Canada’s meatpacking industry and discuss the consequences of this process for Brooks, Alberta.

3 Overview Restructuring and the Meatpacking Industry Boomtowns and Meatpacking Brooks Brooks and its Newcomers Challenges to Service Provision Conclusions

4 Restructuring and Meatpacking Cattle were raised on the prairies and shipped by rail to stockyard locations. Meatpackers purchased cattle at the stockyards. Cattle were slaughtered in multi- species plants. Most major Canadian cities had plants.

5 Restructuring and Meatpacking Industry controlled by an oligopoly, Canada Packers, Burns Meats and Swift Canadian. In 1948 a union master contract was established that set industry wide pay and working conditions. By the early 1960s industry wages were above the average for Canadian industry.

6 Restructuring and Meatpacking In the post World War Two period the industry expanded, hired more people. By late 1970s – red meat consumption began to decline. The industry had an overcapacity problem. Solution cut costs- reduce wages/close plants.

7 Restructuring and Meatpacking In 1984 the Master Contract was challenged by Burns Meats. At Lakeside striking workers were replaced with workers at $3.00 - $3.80 an hour less. Other plants shut down.

8 Canada Packers Plant, St Boniface

9 Restructuring and Meatpacking IBP revolution south of border associated with a series of cost cutting innovations. Locating plants close to where cattle are raised. Adoption of disassembly line. Construction of large slaughter capacity single species plants.

10 IBP plant, Denison, Iowa

11 Restructuring and Meatpacking Refused to abide by terms of master contract. Developed boxed beef. Carcasses were fabricated into smaller portions and vacuum packed- fat and bone removed at the plant. Combined effect of innovations to shift plants from urban to rural areas.

12 Restructuring and Meatpacking In Canada old packing companies ignored the IBP revolution. Cargill in late 1980s opened its High River plant- produced boxed beef. Received funding from the provincial government. Initially its labour force was non-union. Lower cost producer led to more plant closures.

13 Ontario Stockyards

14 Canada Packers Smokestack Edmonton Canada Packers’ Smokestack, Edmonton

15 Restructuring and Meatpacking Relatively low paying, physically demanding jobs with a high injury rate have a limited appeal. Little surplus labour in rural areas. Initial plant start-up labour turnover 200%.

16 Restructuring and Meatpacking High turnover rate- 6-8% a month for line workers after a plant is established. So where do the workers come from? Solution: recruit immigrants from the developing world to staff plants.

17 Boomtowns and Meatpacking Boomtown model developed by studying western energy boomtowns in the 1970s. “Gillette syndrome” sudden & rapid population growth produced a host of adverse social impacts (Kohrs 1974). Theoretical basis for model is found in studies of social disorganization and urbanization (Wirth 1938).

18 Boomtowns and Meatpacking Pre-boom communities are characterized by stability and social cohesiveness. Social control is maintained by a “high density of acquaintanceship.” Sudden influx of population is presumed to disrupt this pattern.

19 Boomtowns and Meatpacking Social interaction and watchfulness are reduced, contributing to a rise in social disorganization and formal controls replace informal control. Critics charge that boomtown studies fail to link the causal mechanism of population growth reducing social interaction – since the studies occur after the boom!

20 Boomtowns and Meatpacking But despite the “weak” theoretical underpinning of the model- plenty of evidence for the phenomenon (Finsterbusch 1982). Camasso & Wilkinson (1990) found evidence linking newcomer social isolation and child abuse in a boomtown.

21 Boomtowns and Meatpacking Broadway and Stull (2006) argue that small meatpacking towns represent a new kind of boomtown. The worst of both worlds- challenges of rapid population growth and increasing social disorders brought about labour recruitment plus increasing demand for social services as a result of a low wage economy.

22 Brooks Town is a regional service centre for agriculture and oil and gas sectors. Irrigation has transformed the semi-arid landscape. Lakeside started out with a feedlot 3 miles west of town in 1966. Brooks 1971 population 4,010

23 Brooks 1970s- the town’s first boom- energy related- population doubles during the decade to reach 9,421 in 1981. Lakeside adds a packing plant in the early 1970s – it specializes in production of carcasses. 1981- 1996 town’s population increases by just 700 persons.

24 Brooks 1994 Lakeside purchased by IBP- and IBP immediately announced expansion plans. Addition of a boxed beef plant and a second shift will mean hiring about 2,000 more employees. 1996 unemployment in Brooks = 310. Where will the employees come from?

25 Brooks and its Newcomers Initial recruitment in southern Alberta, then the Maritimes and interior BC. Sudden influx of population leads to boomtown problems- housing shortages, increase in rents. Recruitment of young adult, less educated, single males leads to familiar social problems.

26 Brooks and its Newcomers Some resentment towards newcomers. By 1998 Calgary Catholic Immigration Society involved in placing immigrants at the plant. Lakeside allows SAAMIS Immigration Society to have an office at the plant- most of the paperwork deals with family reunification.

27 Brooks and its Newcomers In 2000 Lakeside paid a $1000 bonus to employees who recruited a friend or family member to work at the plant for a minimum period. Result chain migration and establishment of newcomer enclaves.



30 Brooks and its Newcomers 2003 Global Friendship Immigration Society data indicate 90% of clients are refugees- leading source countries Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Influx of young people leads to a baby boom. Brooks birth rate 17/1000 in 1996- 19/1000 (Alberta 14/1000 12/1000).

31 Brooks and its Newcomers Baby boom is now beginning to be felt in schools- enrollment in K & first grade up 111 students between 1996 & 2005 school years. 2000 civic census indicated 53 different languages and dialects spoken in Brooks- today the number is estimated at over a 100. 2006 estimated 25% of population are of refugee origin.

32 Challenges to Service Providers Immigrant assimilation is a function of migrants’ social class, their conditions of exit, and the context of reception provided by host communities (Portes and Böröcz 1989). Communities can’t do much about the first two items but they can provide a positive context of reception.

33 “The heat in the evening, which only drops to around 30 degrees, heats up the tin-roofed shelters ‘like an oven’, and the three open walls and others with flax roofing does little to stop the elements, which includes flooding in the rainy season. People sleep on thin straw mats on concrete floors and share pit toilets. Kakuma Refugee Camp

34 Their lives can be in great danger. Local people are often antagonistic towards the refugees and there are conflicts between groups within the camp. There is a high incidence of sexual abuse and a prevalence of AK47 rifles.” Source: Senator Amanda Vanstone, Australian Minister for Immigration & Multicultural Affairs Kakuma Refugee Camp

35 Challenges to Service Providers Employment at Lakeside offers an immediate solution to finding that first job in Canada since it doesn’t require any preexisting job skills or knowledge of English. Challenge for service providers to meet the needs of non-native English speaking population some of whom are illiterate in their own language.

36 Challenges to Service Providers Education- Language issue- ESL solution. Numbers increased from 138 in 1999 to 303 in 2005. Biggest impact is in the early grades- about 18% of students in K-first grade are ESL. High School – 3%.

37 Challenges to Service Providers Brooks Central School (K- 1)- Born to Learn program. High School a different set of challenges. Language difficulty or learning disability?

38 Challenges to Service Providers Health care- communication issues. Brooks is short of doctors, difficult to get an appointment- so people resort to using the Emergency Room. How do you provide services to people who speak Arabic, Dinka, Nuer (Sudan), Amharic (Ethiopia), Somali (Somalia) and Oromo (Eritrea)?

39 Challenges to Service Providers Communication – use a translator! Language line used at the hospital. Some people don’t want to use a translator they fear that word of their problem/issue will spread among the community. Long term solution- people will learn English.

40 Challenges to Service Providers Cultural differences- differences in expectations regarding service delivery in schools and law enforcement. Role of women- isolation issue.

41 Challenges to Service Providers Against this background, the town is dealing with boomtown issues. The reported crime rate in Brooks almost doubled between 1996 & 2004 from 131/1000 to 257/1000. Caseloads at Alberta Child Family Services doubled between 1999 and 2005- AADAC similar story.

42 Challenges to Service Providers Economically- the town/city approved new construction worth $200 million from 1996 to 2005. Comparison of 1996 & 2001 census data indicate- employment up, labour force participation up, unemployment down- and a relative decline in income levels from 104% to 93% of AB average.


44 Challenges for Service Providers Brooks Food Bank established in October 1998 – demand for its services continues to grow at a rate of about 8 percent a year. Last year it distributed over 280,000 lbs of food.

45 Conclusions Brooks shares all the characteristics of a rural meatpacking boomtown. But is unique in its multicultural character. Service providers have responded to challenges by hiring additional staff, ESL instructors, health care liaison workers and others.

46 Conclusions The town will continue to grow, more refugees will continue to arrive in Brooks. Some of the problems identified will over time be solved as people adjust to life in Brooks and learn English.

47 Lakeside Packers, September 1996

48 Lakeside Packers, January 2006

49 Conclusions: Policy Implications Refugees are there because of Lakeside and Canadian government’s humanitarian refugee policy. Refugees have unique needs and require more services. Responsibility for providing the services rests with the province. The federal government’s role in assisting the province with Brooks is limited.

50 Conclusions: The Future Refugee children are at greater risk of developing mental health problems such as alcohol abuse, drug addiction, delinquency, depression and post traumatic stress (Hyman 2000). What kind of future will we provide for this next generation of Canadians?

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