03/20/2014 03:03 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT

Dave Hancock got life changing lesson in politics as junior fire warden

EDMONTON - The man who will officially become Alberta's 15th premier said he got his first life-changing lesson in public service as a 15-year-old junior fire warden.

It was the summer of 1971 when young Dave Hancock stood in the basement of the Catholic church in tiny Fort Vermilion, Alta., and demanded answers.

A provincial election was looming and Hancock wanted to know why his fire warden camp had been moved from Jarvis Lake to Blue Lake.

It was the dying days of the Social Credit dynasty in Alberta. Peter Lougheed's upstart Progressive Conservatives were taking on the governing party in an election the Tories would win and history would define as the demarcation line between political epochs.

The Socred candidate shrugged Hancock off like so much dandruff.

"I wasn't a voter at the time, so he wasn't too interested,'' said Hancock in an interview when he ran unsuccessfully for the job to replace former premier Ralph Klein in 2006.

The Tories had Al Adair in that church that day. The man known as Boomer took the time, answered Hancock's questions, showed an interest.

"It was probably my first lesson in politics. People will actually support you if you listen to them, hear them out and be responsive," said Hancock.

On Thursday, Hancock, now a five-term, 17-year veteran of the legislature, was picked by caucus to replace Premier Alison Redford.

She resigned Wednesday as scandals over lavish spending escalated into caucus infighting that destroyed her ability to lead. Two days before her resignation, Donna Kennedy-Glans, the associate minister for electricity, crossed the floor, saying she had almost no contact with Redford and that key legislation was pushed through with no prior consultation with caucus.

Hancock, now 58, was born in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., on Aug. 10, 1955, the youngest of seven children. They moved around the North from small community to small community.

His dad bought fur from trappers for the Hudson's Bay Co.

"He was the last of the fur traders."

His mom taught in a succession of one-room schoolhouses.

He went to high school in tiny Fort Vermilion in northern Alberta, known for the red ochre deposits on its riverbanks. He graduated in a class of seven and ran for school president, with Peanuts' cartoon character Charlie Brown on his election posters.

He lost.

In 1972, the self-professed wide-eyed kid from the sticks came to Edmonton to study law at the University of Alberta.

He literally shut down the library on Friday nights — he worked there to pay the bills. Friends said he was forever backing out of fraternity socials to go to some "political tea party.''

He worked on the Progressive Conservative youth executive. He pounded in campaign signs and knocked on door after door.

He met his future wife Janet at a PC youth conference election in Banff. She worked for his opponent but when she heard him speak, she marked her X for him. He won by one vote.

Hancock has represented the tony Edmonton-Whitemud constituency since 1997.

He has served in almost all senior posts: health, justice, intergovernmental relations, aboriginal affairs, education and human services. On the side he shepherded the government's legislation through as house leader until he was named deputy premier last year.

Advanced education is his love, and he wept in the spring of 2005 when he had to give it up to seek the leadership.

Eventually it came back to him in last December's cabinet shuffle under Redford.

Away from work, Hancock is known to cook dinner on Sundays, going off recipe. He loves the theatre (especially Macbeth) and reportedly tortures those around him with off-key crooning of Johnny Cash while driving.

He and Janet have three children.

He admires former Lougheed for his political acumen and former federal Tory leader Robert Stanfield for his breadth of knowledge.

Stanfield's failure to breach the fortress of Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, he said in the 2006 interview, reminds him that in the sound and fury of politics, fair is often foul and foul fair.

"A lot of it is time and circumstance and how you do things, but you don't always control your destiny."