Point paddles into the sunset
His Honour Steven Point may look on his years in Victoria with satisfaction, but he’s up front that he won’t miss living in the stately Government House.
“This is fancy, but you’re also in a jail here,” he said with a chuckle. “The gates are locked and there’s security here all the time.”
After five years as B.C.’s 28th lieutenant governor, Point is eager to return to his home with his wife, Her Honour Gwendolyn Point.
Over his term as the Queen’s representative in British Columbia, he’s accumulated “too much” mileage travelling to Chilliwack once or twice a month to visit family.
“It’s nice to go home,” he said. “Our grandchildren are there, all our kids are there.”
Once back, he hopes to resume his post as a provincial court judge – “Knock on wood,” he said, with another soft chuckle.
Among locals who got the chance to know him, Point has garnered a reputation for being warm, funny and down-to-earth – and for being a great storyteller. He particularly had a knack for drawing in young people with tales from his own youth.
“Talking to kids is not easy,” he said at his office, before his departure ceremony Nov. 1 at the legislature. The best way to engage them is to talk about your own life and make sure you don’t come off as too important, he added.
“They ask all sorts of questions. They want to know if you sleep in a golden bed. It’s very funny.”
In particular, he inspired aboriginal youth, as B.C.’s first aboriginal lieutenant governor.
“We get a lot of excitement when we get out to First Nations communities,” Point said. “I think it gives a lot of pride to the kids.”
The children also write him letters.
“His Honour personally responded to literally thousands of letters back of forth,” said Michael O’Connor, who got to know Point well as president of the Government House Foundation. “He takes the time to talk with everyone.”
The role took a bit of getting used to, however.
“I think it was unexpected when he was asked (to take the job) and he had to think about it. I think he was a bit apprehensive at first (but) I watched him become more relaxed in his role,” O’Connor said. “He is very engaging with people of all walks of life … and he makes everyone relax.”
Victoria MLA Carole James has attended many events with Point.
One of her favourite memories of him happened just a few months ago, during a ceremony dedicated to a new totem pole outside Government House.
“He saw that some of the little kids were having trouble seeing,” James said. “He said, ‘this event is about the future and supporting tradition, so I want to ask all the children to come on up to sit on the rocks …’ It was like watching the pied piper.”
When it came time to pull on the ropes to raise the totem pole, he invited the kids to join him in pulling.
“For me, that said it all,” James said. “He brought a human side to what can be seen as a reserved, formal position.”
Point also accomplished many good deeds for the province during his appointment.
Chief among them is his literacy program.
“That’s worked out to be a great thing,” Point said. The program started by bringing books out to communities, but as more partners came on board, it expanded to bring whole libraries to towns with no road access.
Settling on literacy was a bit of a process of elimination for Point.
As the Queen’s representative, “you can’t comment on poverty. You can’t comment on education,” he said. “The programs that you can be involved in have to be outside the political arena, so I decided to do literacy, which is a pretty neutral kind of thing.”
While Point has not been free to speak his mind on political issues he has held political power.
It’s a role Canadians don’t understand well, said Point.
On top of attending ceremonies and hosting dignitaries, the lieutenant governor holds real power, he said.
“Most people are unaware that the government cannot introduce its own money bills,” he said. “(The Premier) has to come to the Queen because it’s the Queen’s money.”
Prorogation is a good example of that power. Two weeks ago, Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley faced criticism for agreeing to prorogue parliament at the request of outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Point wouldn’t comment on Onley’s decision, but said, “If the lieutenant governor has to make a tough decision, he doesn’t have anybody to talk to – not even the Queen.”
He called it a heavy responsibility.
“When you step into these shoes, the buck stops here.”