Getting two awards handed to him in mid-September wasn’t a surprise to Placentia Mayor Bill Hogan.
The outspoken mayor was presented a Diamond Jubilee Medal and a Municipal Affairs Long Service Award for his 30 years serving in municipal politics at a civic dinner held Sept. 14 in Placentia.
He said he’d been presented with other Jubilee medals in the past, and getting a municipal award for his years of service was standard. But, the colourful mayor was pleased to receive the noteworthy awards, and sat down with The Charter to talk about his many years in municipal and provincial politics
There have been high points and low points but, said the mayor, his years serving the people of Placentia and the province have been very positive.
Hogan began his career in municipal politics in 1969, when he ran in Dunville to try and improve recreational facilities and the town’s infrastructure.
“The lack of recreation and the inadequacies of service to the schools, like bussing and playgrounds was really what drew me into municipal politics,” said the Placentia mayor. “All my kids were school-aged then. One was even pre-school. Before I came here I was very active with recreation in Labrador and in the community so I just fell into it.”
Hogan said he wasn’t entirely sure what he was getting into, but when the votes were counted, he ended up getting the top spot, but not without some controversy.
“When the count was done on election night, I was one vote ahead for the top job, which at that time, the greatest number of votes was usually who got the mayor’s job. Bob Woodman was the runner up to me at that time. A recount was demanded, and in the recount, I was two behind. They counted it nine times. I ended up one behind… but I said, give it up. Quit. The fellow counting it said he would be running out of Bacardi, so soon time to give it up,” laughed Hogan, relishing the old memories. “Anyways, at the next meeting there was a vote on who’d be mayor and the majority of councilors voted for me. The new kid on the block, I guess. They threw me into it and I’ve been there ever since.”
Hogan was also an MHA for the area for four years, and served time in the provincial government as Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Mayor Hogan said he worked hard on getting better recreation facilities for the young people in this area, and is proud of his accomplishments.
“We began fixing up the Dunville ball park. It was there already but not as nice as it is now. I worked on getting the arena paid off and we got that cleared up through debt retirement.”
Hogan explained that there was an $800,000 debt on the arena, and because of the political landscape of the time, with amalgamation on the front burner for many communities, the ones around Placentia included, he was able to work out a good deal for the town. But as with many details from Hogan’s life, there’s a story behind it.
“The debt retirement was a program introduced by the provincial government by assisting municipalities that were in dire straits,” Mayor Hogan explained. “It should have been done… the province messed up amalgamation. Amalgamation now is a dirty word in Newfoundland and it was a dirty word back then, because they did like they did with the resettlement program, they threw these communities together, and then did nothing to launch them into success. They were doomed for failure, right from the beginning.”
The mayor continued.
“I was a minister at the time and I had made certain commitments to the town of Placentia. There were to be 20 or 30 amalgamations (in the province), and I cancelled all of them right off the bat, and did three or four, and every one of them, I got to say, has been a success, including Placentia,” he noted. “At that time I made commitments to the amalgamated communities, to make sure that they went ahead. Then I got defeated and the commitments never really were lived up to.
“That helped us in our debt retirement (in Placentia) because when I went back to the government I reminded them of what I had done and what the Liberal government had supported me on as a minister, and consequently that’s why we got the generous debt retirement. We were able to write off 7- or 8-million dollars. I’m not sure the people of Placentia really appreciate what was done at that time. The province then was very open to seeing that the amalgamated communities succeeded.”
It’s easy to see Mayor Hogan loves his work, and enjoys telling stories about the behind-the-scenes workings of governance. He’s also proud of his record of fiscal management.
“People say I’m a hard taskmaster now. I might have liked to, knowing then what I know now, perhaps we could have been a little more successful. But we never had a deficit in 20 years that I know of, which is unusual around here. I am proud of that. I think the populace can forgive you for a lot of stuff, but if you mismanage the funding, and although they’d never say it, I think it would be very detrimental to any aspirant of municipal politics in this town. As a matter of fact, I don’t think there was a municipal campaign that I didn’t place good governance first, followed by good fiscal management. Everything would then flow from there,” he said.
“When I first became mayor of the municipality of Placentia, there was a big deficit and poor collection. But we got that fixed in three or four years.”
It was important for Hogan to see that money go back into the town he served.
“Back in Dunville, one of the first things we did was extend the town hall and build the fire station. We got a new fire truck and we started building what is now the Dunville ballpark. There was a lot of paving to be done in Dunville and what needed it got paved in short order. When Joey Smallwood ran, this was the last district he ran in, and we went to him with a wish list, and everything on it was done. It was his district and the order went out. Somebody said every path to a clothesline was paved in Dunville. We were delighted.”
In Placentia, after the communities were amalgamated, Mayor Hogan kept up the charge to upgrade and improve.
“A lot of the capital works around you will see my fingerprints on,” he said. “The recreation facilities in Dunville, the stadium, I led the charge on building the first stadium, which was built in Argentia, and later this one came along, and with that the debt retirement on that (as mentioned earlier). I guess the town square would also be high up there. Again I don’t think the people in the town, particularly in townside, appreciate what this council has done in getting the security of water. There wasn’t really any water and sewer. Bits and pieces, and septic systems, tanks, inadequacies in the water supply and all that’s firmed up.”
But the one thing he’s most proud of?
“Seeing the new Laval school. I tell you, without too many being able to contradict me, that Laval might have come some time, but it wouldn’t be here today without this council and its activities. I may have led the charge but I had great support. There wasn’t one opposition to the advocacy that I pushed to get that school there and for this council to be able to sit down with Vale Inco and to negotiate and get 2-million dollars to put into it to create what they have up there today. It’s a model for every school in the province.”
Another proud moment for Mayor Hogan and the town of Placentia?
“The water wall was also important. The town was flooded every year. I tell you who to thank for that – Clyde Wells, John Crosbie and Len Simms. They were the first three that I know of, and the first time there was ever a three party agreement on doing any municipal work in the province. There were three projects they all got together on and the wall was one of them. And that was done on my watch.
“The hospital was another accomplishment,” said Mayor Hogan. “I was led to believe in the provincial government that we would get an increase in staff in the budget and I was sat in the House of Assembly when the budget was being read. When they came to read that the Placentia Cottage Hospital was being cut out, and were going to make it some sort of a clinic, I couldn’t believe it. I said to myself, it must be some sort of mistake, and they don’t mean that at all. One of my regrets in political life is that my glass was always half full, never half empty, and I was naïve. I remember sitting there thinking, this has got to be some sort of mistake. After, the minister avoided me, so I am telling you, the shit hit the fan,” laughed the Placentia mayor. “There were demonstrations, motorcades going into St. John’s against the closing of the hospital, and it was quite a battle internally. It took a bit of skullduggery. I could have really upset the political applecart, and can still do it, to a lot of people’s embarrassment. I tell you, people weren’t long pulling in their horns.”
He’s also had moments in provincial politics he’s not too shy to discuss, including some weighty issues.
“I wanted to get in the provincial government because I wanted to put the feather in my cap that I was doing the best I could for my community. I saw my community getting better with me in there, and I was fortunate enough to be chosen to go in Cabinet after a while. I didn’t get in first because I was charged with assault in court here, but I wasn’t convicted. I would have had to resign,” he smiled. “A bit of controversy always came along with me. I had a bad temper. I did four years in provincial government and three years were in Cabinet. Clyde Wells was Premier and I was a big part of Meech Lake.”
Shortly after that, Hogan was defeated, and moved back into municipal politics in Placentia.
“There is nothing so satisfying as municipal politics, especially if you go into it and become part of a group that’s all got the one agenda. If you get people on your group that have their own agendas not necessarily in concert with the legal way of running a council, then it can be very disruptive,” Hogan explained. “People have to remember, the worst thing is when people walk through the door with a problem, the person they are coming to see too often say what is wrong with what this person is saying instead of how can I help.”
He would recommend municipal politics to anyone who thinks they have something to offer.
“I am disappointed there are not more people in the community willing to serve their municipality. We’ve got a lot of good people in this town that have something to offer, and they have some sort of inhibition that they can’t do this. But the only thing is they come in here and try to be something other than themselves. If they were to come in here and just be themselves, and articulate themselves well, they could do a lot for the town. There are many people with good ideas but they won’t come forward. People limit themselves and that’s disappointing,” he said.
As for the medals he was presented recently?
“I was honoured.”