EDITORIAL: Photographed opportunity
As followers of local media already know, Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar spent last month walking in someone else's shoes.
Meeting the challenge raised by the Raise The Rates group, he has tried to subsist on the $610 monthly welfare rate.
And, as many have pointed out, the shoes he was wearing were not his: he had the luxury of being able to walk away from them; he isn't poor, or unemployed; and he knew throughout his ordeal that he would, in the end, return to his family, with the certainty of finding a roof over his head and knowing where his next meal is coming from.
But, at the very least, Brar has had a taste, firsthand, of what it's like to be poor and marginalized in our society.
That's more than can be said of many politicians from all levels, whose idea of getting their hands dirty is donning a hardhat and rolling up their sleeves for a photo op and a few well-scripted platitudes, before rolling off to lunch – leaving actual policy in the hands of bureaucrats.
If the NDP MLA's journey was a self-serving publicity stunt, it is clearly one that cost him a little more in physical discomfort than many politicians have risked over the course of numerous terms in office.
It can be argued that it is an exercise in futility with no practical outcome, serving to reinforce an entrenchment of political attitudes rather than promote a dialogue on possibilities.
After all, say some, obviously the rate is too low for our needy to thrive – if not survive – on. For others, it was never intended as a permanent income, and a higher rate will simply encourage more of our wastrels to apply for it rather than become self-reliant.
But if Brar's exercise in poverty has, at the very least, got people discussing an issue too often side-stepped by the more squeamish among us, it has reached at least some level of inarguable value.
The MLA claims his experience has made him a changed man. We can hope that change becomes manifest in more activism on behalf of the poor in his own riding and beyond. We can hope that his actions can motivate other leaders to provide policy alternatives to address the vicious cycle of poverty that exists on our streets.
Unless there is meaningful follow-up by people of conscience, Brar's experience – no matter how earnest and well-intended – will end up being considered just another photo-op.
And that would be a shame.