Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stan Hagen

I have a soft spot for Stan Hagen. When he died this week, in a coffee shop a few steps from the legislature, something passed with him.
Hagen was a veteran MLA and cabinet minister. He was always perfect – suit, tie, crisp shirt, perfect white hair, healthy glow. He was always positive and happy. And he always really interested in how you were.
He wasn’t perfect, of course. I always get wary when people suddenly are seen as saint-like after they die.
But Hagen never lost sight of the reason he went into politics. And that was to make things better for the people he represented in the Comox Valley, and the province.
You could argue about choices made to achieve that. But I don’t think you could doubt that Hagen was trying to do the right thing, as an MLA and a cabinet minister.
He represents, to me, the best of the Socred cabinet ministers of the 1980s. He wasn’t a politician. Hagen had been a school trustee — he has five children — but mostly he’d been involved in church and a whole raft of community activities. People knew him and respected him. So in 1986, in his mid-40s, he was elected.
It’s a good route to office. You have a family, experience, a whole life outside politics. And everyone knows you – not just the business types, or the guys from the Steelworkers, or the party stalwarts. When you go out to get groceries, they tell you how you’re doing.
And you represent them in Victoria, instead of representing the government in the riding. When people are unhappy, you say so and think about changes. That culture helped the Socreds to almost four decades of power.
And Socreds, at least until things unraveled, had a useful focus on the individual. Understand one person’s problems, and fix them, and things would get better.
Sure, that led to some mistakes. But on balance, maybe fixing problems that way is better than ending up in endless studies and exercises in process.
Again, this isn’t St. Stan stuff. I remember being terribly frustrated with Hagen’s evasions when something had gone wrong in his ministry of children and families. In part, because I expected better.
But I also remember talking with him in the corridor outside the legislative chamber, when he said he’d told Gordon Campbell he wanted to stay as children and families minister after the 2005 election. The work was so important, he said.
That is one brutally hard job. But Hagen wanted it. He could see the children whose lives were changed, maybe saved, by the ministry’s workers. The families kept together.
And he did have a certain freedom. Hagen held 10 different portfolios during his time in provincial politics. He was 69 when he died. He could say what he thought.
It’s a funny thing, covering the legislature. Ideally, you just don’t know the politicians. That way, you can focus on policy and actions, without worrying that you’re being swayed – either way – by the way you feel about some minister. There was hopeless NDP cabinet minister, but I was always slightly kinder after she talked about how much she missed the Thursday night bowling league back home.)
But my partner grew up in the Valley. She taught piano to two of the Hagen’s five children. And at a desperately hard point in her life, scared and feeling alone, she ran into Hagen, in a restaurant in Parksville. And he listened, for a couple of hours, and didn’t judge and, she says, one of the worst nights of her life was not quite as bad. (You can read her account. There'sa link down a post or two.)
I can imagine people thought of Stan Hagen as the bad guy, the enemy,
Nah. Right sometimes, wrong sometimes. But he wanted to make this a good place for everyone to live.
That’s a pretty good starting point for anyone in government.


Anonymous said...

Some folks might have loved Stan, but really, the guy was pretty lousy as a Minister of Children and families, didn't do so hot as the overruns mounted on the Convention Center. His support of Campbell no matter what Gordo did, did not endear him to a lot of people. He figured out rather quickly, just be a bit devious and look a bit silly and folks eventually stop asking. But he was a family man and will be missed by his supporters. I was chatting with a life long farmer this evening and even when a Socred he was trying to get land out of the ALR. Some legacy

Anonymous said...

Paul, thank you for speaking about the elephant in the room about how saintly a person becomes upon their unfortunate passing.

I agree with your thougthful opinion and share the admiration many had for the person that was Stan Hagen. However, it is important not to gloss over the challenges Minister Hagen faced in many of his portfolios.

I am sure that he will be missed, and he will be remembered.

Anonymous said...

Stan Hagen was an amazing and kind person (in addition to a being great leader) . He devoted his life to bettering our province -He was involved in 100's of projects that will affect peoples lives for decades to come both in his riding and for our Province. People seem to forget how difficult public life is - Stan was willing to take the good with the bad and was always a stand up guy. His passing is a great loss for all citizens in BC.