Geoff Plant: From attorney-general to Emily Carr’s new chancellor

Former Attorney-General Geoff Plant discusses his peripatetic journey through law, politics—and now academia

Lunch with former B.C. Attorney-General Geoff Plant strays into psychological territory when it comes to his career.

From serving nine years, starting in 1996, as MLA of Richmond-Steveston to resigning this past June as chair of Providence Health Care board after six years, the veteran lawyer speculates that a “short attention span” is at the root of his frequent moves. “I realize now it’s always been close to six- or seven-year cycles before I’ve moved on since starting to practise law in 1982,” says Plant, a partner at Vancouver- based Gall Legge Grant and Munroe LLP (which he helped establish after the demise of Heenan Blaikie LLP in 2014, where he was also partner). Attention deficit isn’t code for being bored easily, however: “It’s more that there is so much to do, and I’d rather do more. Life’s about change and impermanence.”

Part of that change sees him become chancellor of Emily Carr University of Art and Design effective this month. Fresh from watching April’s ground-breaking ceremony for its new Great Northern Way campus (it’s set to move from Granville Island in 2017), he quotes president Ron Burnett’s speech. “He said to ‘embrace the existential crisis that you are about to experience,’ which is a good thing to say to undergraduates, but it’s kind of life, too,” says the graduate of Harvard, Southampton, Dalhousie and Cambridge universities, with a laugh. “Every day is an adventure, so just roll with it.”

An art aficionado who lives in Point Grey with his wife, Janet (they have two adult children), Plant defines his own tenure as part ceremonial, part getting involved. “The idea of having a reason to hang out there, and not just be a tourist, is exciting,” the 60-year-old adds. “And of course I know how to talk to, if not always persuade, government.”

It will also be a stone’s throw from the legacy of his time at Providence: the creation of a new St. Paul’s Hospital at Main and Terminal. With the ability to care for the elderly and mentally ill, for example, beyond the hospital’s emergency section, he insists it’s the right move away from the West End site: “We persuaded government that you could never do as much to build the future of health care in a renovated old building.”

We’re also chatting—over pasta at Zefferelli’s in downtown Vancouver—following the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report. As a lawyer working in aboriginal law (he was AG and the minister responsible for treaty negotiations from 2001 to 2005), Plant now hopes for wider community engagement in the process of reconciliation with First Nations and the problems residential schools have caused. “The default in most cases like this is to write up a list of recommendations that the government should do,” he says. “Of course there is a role for government—but the idea for reconciliation will not become reality until we realize that it is about all of us.”

Outside of his crammed schedule, Plant is a traveller (a Nepal trip led him to join the board of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education) and guitarist (“of long experience and little ability”). He also kayaks at his family cabin on Bowyer Island—a “rock” without roads or electricity. “When I read that someone says they ‘leap’ out of bed every morning because they love their job, I think, ‘You’re built differently than I am,’” he says. “I leap out if I get to paddle around the island—the rest of it is stuff you do just to make life possible.”