Margot Sangster

Election 2015: Afghan sojourn inspired political run

Every week the Langley Advance profiles one candidate for the federal election.

The NDP candidate for Langley-Aldergrove has spent much of the past few years working in Afghanistan.

Margot Sangster is a first-time candidate who was raised in Vancouver.

“From a very early age I seemed to be interested in culture,” said Sangster.

In her early 20s, she decided to go on a trip to Asia, and visited Thailand, India, Nepal, Burma, Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan.

“I lived with a hill tribe family in northern Thailand,” Sangster said.

She came back and said she had a new focus. She studied administrative management at BCIT, and got a job with a cross-cultural consulting firm that briefed and de-briefed people going on long overseas aid missions for groups like CIDA.

Sangster also studied psychology and would eventually complete a masters degree.

She also worked with MOSAIC, serving new immigrants and helping them get jobs in the Canadian workforce, and then with Vancouver Coastal Health.

After working with immigrants and people who were doing aid work overseas, Sangster started researching and thinking about taking the plunge herself. She even did a “recon trip” to Afghanistan, going along with an Afghan-Canadian friend for a family wedding.

Heading overseas would mean quiting a good job, but she wanted to do something to help rebuild the country, she said.

“I realized that’s where I wanted to go,” Sangster said.

Sangster went over in 2011, and spent a year and a half working for the Afghan Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture. She was working with both ministries on a variety of jobs, including the re-opening of the Kabul Employment Center and teaching English to local staffers.

There are a number of challenges to working in a country wracked with war and poverty.

“One has to be extremely street smart,” Sangster said.

She said she was very fortunate during her time in the country. She never saw an attack, and never saw anyone she knew killed or injured in an attack. But she wasn’t always far from the violence.

On her first day at her new job, after a tour of the Employment Service Centre, she was sitting down to lunch with the other staff when she heard something. Was that gunshots? she asked.

Everyone told her it was nothing to worry about. But a few minutes later she was asking if that new sound was a rocket launcher.

She heard later from local friends that some buildings had been locked down.

After her first trip, she spent some time back in Canada before returning for a second, six month job in Afghanistan.

“It’s satisfying, as long as you can focus on the small things that you can do,” Sangster said.

She felt a bond with the country.

“Afghanistan and Afghan people really have a way of getting into your heart,” she said.

She came back to Canada this June and found herself running for office within months.

Sangster had previously worked on NDP MLA David Eby’s successful campaign in Vancouver, and she has been politically involved for about 30 years.

Her experiences overseas had convinced her she was ready to work on another campaign or to run herself. It was her 92-year-old aunt who gave her the final push, Sangster said.

Sangster hasn’t lived in Langley before, and acknowledges that some may see her as a parachute candidate. She is in the process of moving here, she said.

Some of the issues she plans to be focused on are local – she said things like helping local businesses, transit, and affordable housing, will be her first priority. She’s also opposed to Bills C-24 and C-51, both passed by the Conservative government.

Sangster acknowledges she’ll have an uphill battle in a riding composed mostly of areas that have voted Conservative or Reform for decades.

“I know it’s not an easy challenge, but for better or for worse I’m a person who relishes challenge,” Sangster said.


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