Jinny Sims, born in India, came to England with her family where she grew up, becoming a teacher following her schooling at the University of Victoria in Manchester. In 1975 she and her husband moved to Canada, first Ontario and then Nanaimo, where she became active with the BC Teachers Federation which she ultimately led as the sixth female president in 2004. In 2011, she was elected as a Member of Parliament. With an election coming in the fall, she spoke with Ray Hudson of the Asian Journal about her riding and issues that concern her.
AJ: What concerns are you hearing amongst your constituents?
JS: The recent gang-related violence is uppermost. I’ve been pushing the Conservatives on a timeline for the arrival of the additional police for Surrey. We’ve had over thirty-five shootings in the Newton area in the last few months, and we still don’t know when the additional police will arrive. I think this is an emergency and police should be allocated from other parts and sent straight away.
I’m not saying that more police is the total answer, but I think immediate intervention would send a warning message to the gangs and to our youth. In the long term we need to invest more in education, early intervention, rehabilitation and all of those things. But to blame the opposition for stopping them from passing their law and order bills, when they’re a majority government, is one of the most bizarre arguments I’ve ever heard.
AJ: What other issues do you highlight here?
JS: I find that the issues are the same as they are for other communities: decent paying jobs so people don’t have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet; issues around youth unemployment with parents very worried about a future for their children with the decent paying jobs disappearing; high university or post secondary debt; and the need to invest in the apprenticeship programs as well. I hear a lot about affordability in the riding with people feeling squeezed from paycheck to paycheck, specifically for housing. People came to Surrey because of the high cost of housing in Vancouver and now people are feeling squeezed out of Surrey too.
I’m concerned about payday loan companies that charge very high fees for cheque cashing, affecting the most vulnerable. At the same time people tell me they feel gouged by the banks that make billions in profits, through bank service fees and very high credit card fees. As you know, my riding has multiple small and medium-sized businesses, and I hear from them about transaction fees, which may be the highest in the G7 countries. Transaction fees in Australia, Britain or Europe, are about point six percent. Here it can be as high as three to five percent.
AJ: It gets to the point where some companies don’t want to take debit or credit cards?
JS: We have put forward motions that would limit or cap transaction fees because other banks around the world are managing alright, so why can’t they in Canada? Some small and medium-sized businesses are also looking for some breaks and as you know our party has already announced a 2% cut to the tax bracket for those businesses.
I hear from those working at minimum wage jobs in the service industries. You can barely survive on $10 per hour, especially when you have rent to pay. These people should not be the working poor, so we’ve announced support for the $15 minimum wage. Related to that is the problem of affordable and quality, regulated child care which we believe should be pegged at no more than $15 per day.
AJ: I wanted to ask your take on temporary workers. Do they take jobs from Canadians or provide an important service to the economy?
JS: When we have Canadians available to do the work, they should get the jobs first. If we don’t have enough Canadians available, welders for example, and we’re training welders, you can’t just stop projects while they are being trained, so you bring in foreign workers. But if you’re not even training to fill the gaps, they should come in through the immigration stream, because that’s how this country was built. For me, the temporary foreign worker program is broken, it’s been one of my major files. I think it needs to be fixed. The Liberal government opened the flood gates, and the Conservative government has just pumped people through so that even now we have over four-hundred thousand temporary workers in the country. What we’re basically saying is that we’re bringing in temporary workers for permanent work. And many of those temporary workers are denied many of the rights of other workers. We’ve seen those abuses, recently in some fast food businesses. Also, I have people coming into my office saying their son or daughter can’t get hired by this or that fast food restaurant.
I do hear from businesses which require certain specializations where those people are not available. So, it’s not that we should get rid of the temporary foreign worker program, but it needs to be fixed so that it has a very narrow application. Everything else should be based on data concerning the number of immigrants we need, which this government has not been collecting.
I constantly hear from seniors who can’t make ends meet. I visit some of the seniors’ homes in our neighbourhood, and some of them tell me that if you’re on medication and living in a home, because they take so much of your income, there’s nothing left, not even enough to go out for a cup of coffee anymore. One told me they couldn’t even buy their grandchild a $10 birthday gift.
There is a coming need for assisted living services, and they’re worried that the Harper government’s threat not to continue with the six-billion dollar transfer payment will really impact our health care system. They’ve been doing some pretty intense lobbying on our health care system with all MPs.
AJ: You expressed a concern that there is a mental health disaster in the making, in failing to recognize and address the epidemic of mental illness.
JS: The Conference Board of Canada reckons there are more days lost to mental illness than anything else and yet we have no national strategy. People are burning the candle at both ends, working harder than ever, and they’re not getting to where they thought they would. Imagine the psychological impact of that. We’re talking about all people, at all levels of education and standing. When I go to Kwantlen I hear major concerns from students about mental health issues there.
One of the things I always thought, because we’re Canadian, everything would be fair and everybody would be treated the same. That was the biggest eye-opener to me as to how biased our systems are and how they are stacked up against certain people. That’s been one of the hardest things to accept.
I know a young woman who has a brain tumor. She has young kids but no family that can help her while she goes for surgery. She applied for her sister to come from abroad for about two months and help during her surgery and recovery. Despite the need verified by doctors, the Immigration department wouldn’t even give her sister a visa to come and visit. Last weekend I attended the funeral for a man whose son was denied a visitor’s visa to come to the funeral. And yet, if I come from England, as I do, members of my family can just buy a ticket and get on a plane. The Canadian immigration system is broken.
AJ: Approaching the election how do you feel about your first term?
JS: The most important thing I’ve learned is that being a Member of Parliament is a privilege and an honour. During the week you’re in Ottawa attending the sessions, and on the weekends in your riding, you’re on duty. It’s a 24/7 commitment. And though it’s a lot of work, I feel so passionately about the type of Canada I want for my children, grand children, and the children I have taught, that I am willing to make that commitment to build this community and country.
AJ: Thank you.