Letters to the Editor

Brar’s stint ‘poverty tourism’

Re: “A Surrey MLA’s earnest bid,” The Leader, Jan. 10.

There has been a long tradition of public “poverty” stunts.

The current one by Surrey-Fleetwood NDP MLA Jagrup Brar as a result of an instigation by the anti-poverty group Raise the Rates Coalition, intended to create awareness of the dire straits of some 180,000 B.C. welfare recipients.

Back in 1986, another NDP MLA Emery Barnes did exactly the same to create awareness of what was needed to deal with Vancouver’s poverty problem, having spent the month of February with the homeless. And through the years there have been others.... and not much has changed.

While the basic element of public awareness of street poverty may have been a critical issue in 1986, there is in 2012 no shortage of public awareness of the gravity of the situation, thanks to a relentless media onslaught.

Instead, it is political will that’s now needed, and the action has to move from publicity projects in the streets to the political venue of legislative assemblies.

That said, there is indeed a distinct downside to publicity stunts of temporary “street dwellers” like that of Jagrup Brar. Not only are they in the privileged position of their self-imposed “poverty” being temporary but, more importantly, the folks they temporarily mingle with do recognize an outsider’s privileged “make-believe” position and feel patronized and even offended if they suspect a self-serving political motive.

Sometimes referred to as “poverty tourism,” Mr. Brar’s month-long descent into the netherworld of street poverty, knowing that he’ll be safely home again, will perhaps serve as personal education, but uncover little that isn’t already known about the lives of those less-fortunate.

Given the publicity surrounding Brar’s poverty stunt, one may be forgiven to wonder about the politics involved here.

Certainly, the question arises as to whether even a doubling of the current welfare rate by itself would serve to deal with the root causes of poverty.


E.W. Bopp


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