05/10/2015 10:00 EDT | Updated 05/10/2016 05:59 EDT

Former PC Cabinet Minister Allan Warrack Has Advice For NDP Rookies

"I felt numb. I could hardly breathe."
EDMONTON - The man who was the youngest member of Peter Lougheed's first cabinet when the Progressive Conservatives came to power in Alberta has some advice for the NDP's rookie members of the legislature.

Work hard at learning your job. Trust the public service. Be ethically clean.

And don't forget to breathe.

"I felt numb. I could hardly breathe," Allan Warrack remembers about walking into the legislature in 1971 for the first time.

The Tories had just pushed the Social Credit out the door after 36 years in power.

"On one hand, I was so excited, and on the other hand, disbelieving that this was really happening. I didn't know where my office would be or any of that stuff."

Warrack, 77, a retired University of Alberta professor emeritus, says he feels empathy for the political neophtyes who will make that same walk through the legislature's wooden double doors after the NDP's majority election win last week that ended the PC dynasty.

He's already had lunch with Thomas Dang, who, at 20, will be the youngest member of the NDP caucus.

Warrack says he wanted to share with the computer science student what it was like when Warrack was the new kid on the block — a 34-year-old academic who grew up on a farm.

"I said to him, 'You're young. People will expect you to be a smart-alec, so don't. Be unfailingly polite to anyone, anywhere, so they can trust you, and say things to you, and help you in ways that they won't, if they don't trust you.'"

He also told Dang to meet lots of people, to remember names and to listen carefully to other points of view with an open mind.

Above all, he told him, let absolutely nothing get in the way of your integrity.

"I wanted to catch him right from the get-go before everyone was running over him like a truck."

Commentators have noted that the incoming NDP government includes many politically inexperienced people including post-secondary students, a former school principal, a flight attendant, a nurse and a yoga teacher.

Warrack says the newly elected Tories heard plenty of criticism when they went from six to 49 seats in 1971. People said they were lucky. People said they were unprepared.

"Much of what you are hearing today."

He believes new NDP members will do fine if premier-designate Rachel Notley sets out clear, firm rules of conduct and her caucus follows them.

Notley should borrow a page from Lougheed's playbook and keep cabinet ministers in their posts for a minimum of four years so they can really learn their jobs, Warrack suggests.

He also says ministers should be required to submit pre-signed letters of resignation to Notley so she can dismiss them quickly if they don't measure up.

Warrack says part of the reason he reached out to Dang is that they are both members of the same fraternity, Delta Upsilon. Peter Lougheed was also a member.

"I don't see that much difference between Rachel Notley and Peter Lougheed. That's a high compliment."

Also on HuffPost

Alberta Election Day 2015