By Rob Shaw
VICTORIA — For almost 40 years Gordie Hogg has sat at council tables, in cabinet offices and on the floor of the legislature, where as a politician he crafted policies and passed laws. It’s a rancorous, partisan and often dysfunctional world where it’s rare to find agreement on issues — despite the best attempts by well-meaning legislators.
The failure of traditional decision-making in public policy prompted an almost five-year research project by Hogg and led the Surrey-White Rock Liberal MLA to receive his PhD Thursday at Simon Fraser University.
At 70 years old, he’s the oldest member of the spring 2016 SFU convocation class.
“I think it’s more about endurance than intelligence,” he joked. The doctorate required five years of work that Hogg fit on top of his full-time duties as an MLA, his run for re-election in 2013 and his most recent appointment by Premier Christy Clark as parliamentary secretary for youth sport.
It started years ago with some guest lecturing at SFU, after which colleagues suggested he enter the PhD program.
“I said no, I’m too old and not terribly interested.”
But eventually Hogg — a former cabinet minister in mining and child welfare portfolios — was convinced to pitch a special arrangements doctorate in public policy.
His thesis became Creating Public Policy in a Complex Society: The Context, the Processes, the Decisions, for which Hogg reviewed almost 100 studies on public policy development.
Hogg said he studied how people make decisions and develop thoughts, the economic models now used for social decision-making, and conducted interviews with 15 MLAs. He explored the fallacy that simply providing the public or politicians more information will lead to consensus on an issue, how confirmation bias is built into interpreting evidence, and why sometimes good ideas can be dismissed when they come from one person or party but fast-tracked when the same idea is reiterated by a different person.
“I guess the conclusions are about context, about recognizing the rapidity of change and where we are in that, recognizing how we can more effectively engage the people,” he said.
Politicians live in a “soft spot — we never get close enough to an issue to really understand it,” said Hogg, and ministers are sometimes worried about too much costly public consultation because it seems like delegating authority.
He chronicled his experience on the public record, slyly using the daily two-minute members statements available to all MLAs to stand in the legislature and deliver sometimes bewildering speeches on obscure research and dense policy issues. “(NDP MLA) Bruce Ralston said to me, ‘Are you using your two-minute statements to give us your dissertation over five years?’ ”
“For me, it’s been a great experience,” said Hogg. “It’s been one that’s complimented and made me a better representative for the people — certainly being able to be at Simon Fraser and hear all these conceptual theoretical understandings (about policy making at the legislature) and then to say, ‘Well actually, in the world I live in, it doesn’t happen that way.’ ”
It’s been “bridging the practical and theoretical,” he added.
Whether the PhD marks the end of Hogg’s career in politics — which started on White Rock council in the 1970s — remains to be seen. He said he’s “50-50″ on whether he’ll run for re-election in 2017, having also been appointed an adjunct professor at SFU and warming to the idea of teaching first-year university students.
“My interest is to continue to look at the things I’ve been looking at,” said Hogg. “I’m sure five years from now I’ll probably see all of this differently than I see it today.”