L-R: Kimberly Nguyen-Don, Mr. Jagrup Brar, Lynn Shinto

Yesterday, our Financial Literacy team (Lynn, Joseph and I) met with Mr. Jagrup Brar, the MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, to talk about his experiences in the MLA Welfare Challenge, discuss strategies in reducing poverty in our city and inform him about the wonderful works of SIFE Simon Fraser and our baby project, Hunger Actions!

We were looking forward to this meeting for about five weeks and this meeting was definitely an eye-opener for our team.

Before meeting Mr. Brar, we didn’t know what to expect and there were a lot of questions running through our young, student minds. How much time would he give us from his busy schedule? What should we wear? Would he take any actions after our meeting? What’s his personality like? Is he friendly? Personable? The questions could go forever, but it all boiled down to one question: What is the purpose of the meeting?

We agreed that we couldn’t walk into the meeting without some good facts and a direction, so we began our preparation. Luckily, all of the information was already collected from previous research for our Regionals Financial Literacy script (I knew all that time spent researching was worth it!). We knew Surrey’s poverty rate, BC’s lack of a Poverty Reduction Plan, and issues with the BC Medical Services Plan. Our main goal for the meeting was to learn about what steps BC is currently taking to reduce poverty and how we can be apart of that change.

As you may or may not know, BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada (12%) and currently does not have a Poverty Reduction Plan. Our province is failing to provide adequate services to low-income individuals and if we do not create a proactive solution soon, the poverty level will only increase from here. Out of the 13 provinces and territories in Canada, BC is one of the three “late bloomers” in this movement (Alberta and Saskatchewan also do not have plans).

In fact, implementing a Poverty Reduction Plan SAVES us money. Instead of using funding towards fixing the problem (i.e. medical assistance due to physical and mental stress of poverty), we can invest more money into sustainable programs like universal health care or welfare programs. BC is spending $9.2 billion each year to “fix” the poverty when they could be spending $4 billion on a more concrete and proactive strategy.

An example of a success story comes from our friend from the East Coast, Newfoundland and Labrador. By introducing more services to cater for persons with disabilities and increasing funding for social services, they have decreased their poverty rate from 12% in 2004 to 7% in 2009.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition or watch this awesome video:

Not only did we discuss poverty in BC, we also talked about how we, as students, took a step to tackle this issue in our community. Here comes the fun stuff – talking about what we actually do (Hunger Actions!) and how working at SIFE Simon Fraser has been a rewarding experience for all of us.

Hunger Actions

SIFE Simon Fraser, Hunger Actions Workshop

When we said the word, “SIFE,” Mr. Brar said “Yes, I’ve heard of you guys,” so that made me happy to hear that (Good job SIFE teams!). We talked about our program, Hunger Actions, a comprehensible program to educate low-income single mothers on finding cost-effective ways to feed their families on a minimum budget. His response was very encouraging as he was impressed with us being young students trying to tackle such a big issue. In the end, he asked us to write a proposal outlining the need and a sustainable solution to address that need that could potentially be passed onto the higher levels of government. First it would be passed on to his Health Critic, and then to the Ministry of Health. (No way! This was exciting stuff!)

So guess what we’re doing at the moment? Yes! Drafting a proposal (on top of practicing for Nationals, studying for finals, working part-time, and working out…)! We can’t wait for what’s going to happen in the future! Being apart of SIFE has been an extraordinary experience and the opportunities that come with it are never ending! (Yes, I had to add in some SIFE brainwashing before I ended this post).

Overall, it was a great experience and we would like to thank Mr. Brar for taking the time to meet with us. He gave us a lot of good insight and we hope to meet with him soon. The myths of a “scary, intimidating politician” has been broken as he was very friendly, open, and was not rushed to end the meeting at all. Now I can finally cross off the “meeting with a politician” on my bucket list!