SFYou: Katrina Chen’s road to becoming Burnaby-Lougheed’s MLA

Katrina Chen shares her experiences as an MLA and a former SFU student

Katrina Chen, photo courtesy of Burnaby Now

By: Youeal Abera, Staff Writer 

Fast facts

Name: Katrina Chen

Pronouns: She / her / hers

Department affiliation: Political science and history

Hometown: Chen was born in Taiwan, but has lived in British Columbia for many years

Occupation: Aside from serving as Burnaby-Lougheed’s MLA since 2017, Chen is also the Minister of State for Child Care

 

In the midst of midterm season, finding a source of motivation in the long nights of caffeine consumption and studying can be hard. School may be a dreary journey at times, but the greatest incentive to persevere can be looking at how academic and social student experiences can empower us on our quests towards community and societal improvement. A good example of this is the story of SFU alumna Katrina Chen.

Katrina, Burnaby-Lougheed’s MLA, has found herself in an immensely busy season of her career with the Proportional Representation Referendum arriving in British Columbia — especially since she represents the BC NDP, who ran on a platform of electoral reform in 2017.

Katrina is an advocate for proportional representation, and during our phone interview, she talks about why she’s been working so hard to reach out to her community about the referendum.

“During the past 10–11 years of working in the community, I always hear people say that they don’t feel like their vote counts, the issues that they care about [are] not reflected in the government policies, or that the government just isn’t listening to them,” Katrina says.

“Part of the reason for this is because we don’t have a better electoral system. Proportional representation is about fair representation of seats in the legislature. I think that it is an important time for us to look at our current electoral system and see how we can improve it.”

Additionally, Katrina speaks on how important it is to take provincial politics, including events like the referendum, just as seriously as what transpires on the federal level.

“I think the three levels of government each have different responsibilities and I think we’re equally important because we serve different areas. I also think it’s important to have partners from different levels of government be able to work together.”

Referendum and current political business aside, the most inspiring element of Katrina Chen’s story for me is how a little over a decade ago, Katrina was, like us, an SFU student with big plans. Katrina’s recollections of her experience at SFU shows how much she cherished her time in university, the community she found here, and the education she received.

“I’m fortunate and very thankful that I had a lot of support from my family to be able to help me finish my education,” Katrina recalls.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree with a major in political science and a minor in history, Katrina dove right into her community as she sought ways to improve the lives of those around her.

“After I graduated, I stayed in my community to work in a local non-profit organization,” she said. “My first job was to knock on doors, and that really opened my eyes and helped me learn local issues, like how families are struggling with high costs of living, housing, childcare, and transportation. These were all things that could be impacted through government policies. Through this experience, I became motivated to get involved in my community more.”

Now, as the MLA of Burnaby-Lougheed, Katrina’s entire job is enhancing the community she loves so much.

“My background has always been pretty much on the grassroots level, and now I feel very honoured and very thankful that I have the opportunity to work in Victoria with the provincial government and also as the Minister of State for Child Care,” Katrina said of her current career path. “My goal now is to bring in the universal child care plan to support families, to support our children, and to build a stronger foundation for the future.”

As the MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, Minister of State for Child Care, and the mother of a four-year-old, Katrina seems to do it all, and to do it well.

When I inquire about her hectic schedule, Katrina chuckles. “There’s a lot of things happening. I enjoy and am thankful for the opportunities in this work. I have a great team of staff, and I’m very thankful that I have amazing people working around me and supporting my work. We try to prioritize things so I can better manage my schedule and also keep a little bit of time for my family.”

Katrina stresses that a huge reason why she’s so busy is that she has to juggle her time in the legislature with her time in the community, and the ways she can stay connected to Burnaby-Lougheed’s residents. In spite of how much time she spends in Victoria, Katrina lets me know that, whenever she finds herself in Burnaby, she’s always more than willing to meet face to face with community members.

“I love knocking on doors whenever I have time in Burnaby. When I’m back in Burnaby, I love reconnecting with people and continuing to stay on the grassroots level and hearing their stories. Like I said, I can bring their voices and stories back to the legislature and see how our policies can work for people in our communities.”

More than her impressive work ethic and strenuous workload, I notice how positive Katrina is. Upon asking what the highlight of her position is, she cheerily responds, “I would say the best is that I’m learning so much every single day. I’m thankful for that opportunity.”

Katrina articulates how much she adores how diverse her community is, expressing that the greatest attribute of such diversity is that it encourages its inhabitants to learn from each other. As an Asian-Canadian woman, Katrina acknowledges the significance of diversity in her field, and how imperative it is to have political leaders reflect the citizens of their communities.

Katrina is earnest about how huge the issue is to her, and on how proud she is that the current provincial government’s cabinet is gender balanced and diverse.

“Our own experiences helps to improve the work that we do as elected officials and to be able to bring a different perspective. So these diverse voices help when we’re talking about an issue because, before we make decisions, we need to ask how is it going to impact the different people in our community.”

As we complete our conversation, we come to the subject of university students and our incentive to be informed about local politics. With the same vehemence she expresses for her job, Katrina stresses the importance of B.C.’s young people being involved and informed, including with the proportional representation referendum.

“Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, every one of us has a unique experience and all of our voices and votes count. I would encourage for youth to get to know about your local government and local elected officials, and to be more engaged because everything that we do the taxes we pay, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the schools we go to are all connected to government policies.”