EDMONTON — There were two things Charmaine Borg was told that stuck with her when she was elected a member of Parliament in the 2011 federal election at age 20.
First: “Never do something if you can’t imagine the front page of the newspaper the next day with the headline of what you were doing.”
Second: “Go out there and work as hard as you possibly can to represent your constituents.”
Borg was one of several McGill University students, recruited by the NDP to run against Bloc incumbents in Quebec, who won under popular leader Jack Layton.
The advice came from Megan Leslie, a veteran New Democrat MP who was paired with five of the rookies to guide them during the first few months in office.
“For me, as a mentor, quite frankly, it was the dry stuff … what do you do after you ask the question in question period?” Leslie recalls.
“It was really the internal stuff more than anything and then maybe a little bit of mentoring to remind those MPs … we should act like who we are and really be those voices for our communities.”
A whole group of young people now is taking up public office for the first time in Alberta, where the NDP won its first majority earlier this week. Several seats were snatched by candidates still finishing their studies.
There’s been criticism in some circles over their lack of experience, but incoming premier Rachel Notley has been supportive, saying they reflect the true makeup of Alberta.
Now 24, Borg says mentoring was key when she was first elected, especially when answering the small questions, such as what to wear when attending certain functions.
“Just having someone tell you, you can wear a black dress or you can wear this. That was very helpful.”
She recalls not feeling at home right away in the House of Commons.
“I remember the first couple of days coming into the House, constantly being asked if I was a staffer, constantly being asked to see my pass by the security guards. Someone mistook me for a page.”
“It’s just not feeling like you belong. That was a bit tough for me in the beginning.”
Laurin Liu, 24, was also mentored by Leslie. She had spent much of the 2011 campaign working in ridings in Montreal to try to get other NDP members elected and was surprised when she won.
“It was a learning curve for everybody, no matter what walk of life you are from.”
There will no doubt be bumps as the Alberta rookies try to navigate that curve.
After her election in Calgary Bow, Deborah Drever, a Mount Royal University sociology student, was taken to task by some for social media pictures that featured her mugging with a pot-leaf T-shirt and raising a middle finger in front of a Canadian flag.
“Oh JKJKJKJK Love Canada!” she posted alongside the latter. She explained to the Calgary Sun that the photos were just her “being silly.”
Mentoring could prove a tall task for the Alberta New Democrats, who only have four incumbents, including incoming premier Rachel Notley, with any legislature experience.
Borg says the key for young politicians is to see past the negativity.
“Everybody was expecting us to fail, to fall flat our faces. My advice to them is to prove people wrong — that you do have a place in Parliament.”
The Canadian Press