The veteran operative who managed Premier Ujjal Dosanjh's successful but controversial leadership campaign is now running the New Democrat's by-election fight in Surrey-Panorama Ridge for Jagrup Brar. In an interview, Sandra Houston also said she has a special "understanding and appreciation of Indo-Canadian culture" having previously worked with a number of South Asian candidates including cabinet minister Moe Sihota and Alberta New Democrat opposition leader Raj Pannu. But her biggest job was the Dosanjh campaign, which became mired in controversy because of the large number of Indo-Canadian instant members who attended the 2000 leadership convention.
Ms. Houston's career with the New Democrats started as an executive assistant to Ontario MPP Neil Young back in 1982. She then worked for six years as a field organizer before becoming the party's provincial secretary in Nova Scotia. But the election of a socialist government in British Columbia took her westward in 1992, where she was hired as the ministerial assistant to Transportation Minister Art Charbonneu.
Her partner, former Ontario New Democrat membership organizer Barry Salmon, was also a Harcourt administration apparatchik. Mr. Salmon was the New Democrat's caucus communications director and eventually became Mr. Dosanjh's ministerial assistant. Mr. Salmon, who could usually be found smoking in the breezeway between the Centre Block and the West Annex, also managed Mr. Dosanjh's 1991 and 1996 election campaigns.
In 1993, Ms. Houston was brought in as the outreach branch coordinator in the premier's office, where she had direct input into the hiring and management of ministerial assistants and administrative assistants. That appointment attracted the carniverous attentions of Province columnist Brian "Fang" Kieran, who reported one of his sources "described Houston as a controller who 'is under the delusion that political staff are to take direction from her rather than the ministers they work for.'" Other insiders interviewed by Public Eye confirm Ms. Houston had a rocky relationship with some of her fellow legislative staffers but acknowledge her as being a talented organizer.
But as talented as she was, Ms. Houston left government in 1995, three weeks after Premier Mike Harcourt resigned. She then went to Royal Roads University, completed her masters degree in leadership and training and went to work as a job councillor for Steps to Employment. But when Mr. Dosanjh, who was the best man at Ms. Houston and Mr. Salmon's wedding, moved into the West Annex, she moved along with him as his deputy chief of staff. That job lasted little more than a year, ending when the New Democrats were booted out of government.
Since then, Ms. Houston and her husband have become involved with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an American group promoting democracy worldwide. But these days, she seems to be sticking closer to home. After the Surrey-Panorama Ridge byelection, Ms. Houston is travelling to Edmonton to run Mr. Pannu's re-election campaign.