For longtime Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg, bidding farewell to the legislature was always going to be bittersweet.
And, inevitably, it has ushered in a time of reflection on his 20 years of service to the community as its provincial representative.
The drily amiable BC Liberal, who announced last year that he would not seek re-election in May, has worn a number of hats as an MLA – including minister of state for mining and ActNow BC and also minister of children and youth.
Community service was nothing new to him; prior to first being elected MLA in 1997, he was on White Rock council for 18 years, serving as mayor for half of them.
Looking back on his years as an MLA, he is swift to acknowledge the support of the people he counts as his home team – including wife LaVerne, senior constituency assistant Verna Logan (starting from the days 20 years ago when the office was a kitchen table) and assistant Kathy Paterson, who has worked in the constituency office for the past nine years.
In Hogg’s last speech to the legislature (“I was allowed half an hour – apparently I went over”) he quipped that LaVerne had suggested the decision whether to run for another term had come down to “life or death.” Asked what she meant by that, he was told – or so he said – “you’re useless around the home and if you’re home all the time, I’ll probably kill you.”
Those who know Hogg or who have seen him preside as MC for countless community events over the years know that his predilection for groaner jokes and other enthusiasms – including a fondness for wildly colourful suits and for collecting M&M dispensers – have been a consistent counterbalance to the more serious responsibilities of office.
And when he gathered with Logan and Paterson at the constituency office last week, it was natural that a certain amount of ribbing (as well as a few tears at the end of an era) would be the order of the day.
“It’s been a long, 20-year, training period,” Logan remarked of her years as CA to Hogg.
“Is it over – did I pass?” asked Hogg… to significant silence from his assistants.
Later, as he attempted to print out a transcript of his closing remarks to the legislature, Logan quipped in a whisper “he doesn’t know how to work the computer.”
But Logan and Paterson were just as quick to point to one of Hogg’s last acts in the legislature as an indicator of his far more serious, caring side.
That was the introduction of his private member’s bill – the Safe Care Act – which will allow for the apprehension of vulnerable children whose situations place them at an unacceptable level of risk and allows for subsequent safe placement in a service that will respond to their trauma and high risk of self-harm.
“It’s one of the few private member’s bills that will probably get passed,” said Paterson with pride.
Among other points of pride has been Hogg’s tenure at ActNowBC, during which he pushed for inter-ministry activity on behalf of the health and well-being of the population – every ministry, in fact, had to report to the premier on a plan contributed to that goal.
The approach won recognition for B.C. from the World Health Organization, and Hogg was invited to make a presentation to WHO at a prestigious conference in Bahrain.
At the same time, he acknowledged that, in the course of his career as an MLA, “there are always issues, things you hoped would have worked better – politics is often about compromise.”
As a politician, Hogg believes he has served three constituencies: his own values, principles and beliefs; the people who elected him; and his party.
But he was always interested in building consensus beyond partisan lines and widening government’s focus beyond solely a market economy.
He’s fond of quoting political economist John Stuart Mill’s words in On Liberty: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion…”
As an extension of Hogg’s desire for fairness, his local office has been known for trying to help constituents with their crises.
“It’s not something that you realize is your role when you’re first elected,” Hogg said.
Sometimes there have been clear wins, Logan noted, and sometimes there haven’t.
“In the day-to-day grind, you don’t always feel you can come up with a solid solution but you can offer an ear and understanding,” she said. “It’s not just accounts work. You become aware of people’s environments, and it’s not all sunshine and roses.”
“Sometimes we’ve been driving people to a rehab place and hoping for the best,” Paterson added.
“I’ve only been terrified a couple of times,” Logan said, relating an incident in which a drug user went on a rampage, leaping on tables and breaking things. Although he was soon in police custody, Logan said, “I was traumatized for a couple of days.
“And then he came in a month later and apologized.”
Hogg has always been “active in fighting for non-profits,” Logan noted, and there have been many wins there: “A lot of projects wouldn’t have come into being without him going to bat for them.”
As for Hogg’s next move at age 72, he said he is undecided. He’s been approached by 11 organizations who want him to sit on their boards; he has been asked to teach post-graduate studies at SFU; and he’s had three or four full-time-job offers.
He, Logan and Paterson said that even after the office closes after the May election, it’s likely they will work together again on community projects – although it’s too early to contemplate specifics.
“I’d work with him any time,” said Logan. “I’d be honoured.”
“It’s always been a friendship,” Paterson said. “It started as that and it will always be that.”
There’s no doubt community service will be part of his own equation, Hogg said, as he was set up for that years ago by his mother.
It was the late Kay Hogg who encouraged him to get involved in Little League coaching when he was still in Grade 11. And when, two years later, he went to White Rock council to ask for support for his league at an Edmonton championship, she listened to his complaints about the experience.
“That was my first contact with the local political process, and I told her, ‘Mom, it’s a bunch of old people making silly decisions.’
“She said, ‘I thought I raised you that if you didn’t like what was going on, you’d get involved and try to change it for the better.’
“I had many sleepless night over that, but what she said resonated. When I started looking at running for political office, it was because of that little thing she dropped in my mind.”
A new MLA is to be elected May 9.