Opinion

EDITORIAL: A Surrey MLA's earnest bid to understand the plight of the poor

Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar speaks to reporters at the Newton home where he has rented a room. - Evan Seal / The Leader
Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar speaks to reporters at the Newton home where he has rented a room.
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

Against a backdrop of stunningly high home assessment values for 2011, Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar found “seven-star” accommodation in Newton last week, as part of his quest to live on a single, employable man’s welfare income for the month.

It’s a 12’ x 12’ room in a Newton house he’ll share with six other people. Brar’s portion will cost $375.

His room has a TV and a fridge along with a two-seat sofa. There’s a twin bed fitted with a Winnie-the-Pooh blanket from his kids.

The space is reasonably clean, at least, and there’s room for Brar and his large frame to move around. That can’t be said about one of the other rooms he viewed – not much more than a closet, barely big enough to fit a twin bed, but nothing else.

The person who will be occupying that stellar room in North Surrey – to the tune of $500 a month – will be coming out of hospital after surgery in a couple of days.

With a place to lay his head secured, Brar’s attention turned to another necessity: Food. With his finances already dwindling (after spending money on rent/damage deposit, and a cellphone and bus tickets – needed in order to search for work, a requirement for collecting his social assistance), Brar budgeted about $30 for a week’s worth of groceries. He took home a litre of milk, a package of tofu, a box of cereal, a small jar of peanut butter, noodles, tomatoes, carrots, green onions, apples and a loaf of bread.

Here’s guessing a guy as big as Brar could go through those staples in one or two days, but he only has $67 left, and 27 more days remaining in the month-long experiment.

Is Brar’s stint on the streets “real?” Technically, no. Even he admits that. Is it worthwhile? Yes.

Besides income assistance rates, Brar’s acceptance of the group Raise the Rates’ welfare challenge and the media attention it’s attracting keeps a number of important issues in the spotlight. Among them are the lack of decent rental stock; unscrupulous landlords who offer appalling accommodation to the financially vulnerable (while the government turns a blind eye); and the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in this prosperous and promising region.

The public often demands that politicians “walk a mile” in their shoes, suggesting TransLink directors forgo their vehicles for transit or premiers try to live on a regular Joe’s annual salary.

Yet many are damning Brar for what appears to be an earnest attempt on his part to better understand the plight of the poor.

High school students aren’t criticized for abstaining from eating for 24 hours and calling it a “famine” in a bid to try to understand starvation in Third-World countries. In our instant-gratification culture, going without – even for a short period of time and in the context of a simulated experience – can go a long way towards providing insight.

We say good on Brar for walking the walk, despite having the ability to walk away from the hardship at the end of the month.

Hopefully, he’ll bring new wisdom, along with the voice of his constituents, to the legislative table and affect positive change.

That’s why people voted for him. In fact, it’s his job.

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