Introduction to the Honourable Donald Johnston (2015)


February 2015

It is my pleasure to introduce this year's MacEachen Lecturer, the Honourable Donald Johnston. Mr. Johnston has had a distinguished career as a lawyer, politician, policy advisor and international statesman. Born in Ottawa, Donald Johnston graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Law degree, the latter with distinction, from McGill University, in 1958. He took a further three years of study at Grenoble in France and settled into practice law in Montreal in 1961. In 1973, he founded his own law firm with partners Roy Heenan and Peter Blaikie, then called Johnston, Heenan & Blaikie, which until its close this past year, has been one of Canada's most distinguished law firms. An expert in fiscal law, Mr. Johnston also taught at his alma mater McGill for many years.

His political career began in 1978 with a by-election victory in the federal riding of, I don't know whether it was Saint Henri or Westmount then, but a seat he held for the Liberal Party for the next 10 years. He served in the federal cabinet of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, from 1980 to 84 as President of the Treasury Board, Minister of State for Science & Technology, and Minister of State for Economic & Regional Development. Under Prime Minister John Turner's government, he served as Minister of Justice. Following the 1984 election, Mr. Johnston served a term in opposition but left the Liberal caucus in January 1988 to sit as an independent Liberal over the issue of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, which party leader John Turner opposed but Mr. Johnston did not. He returned to the first ranks of the Liberal Party just two years later and was elected president of the Liberal Party of Canada for the first of two terms presiding over the party's return to power in Ottawa in late 1993. In 1994, Mr. Johnston was elected as Secretary General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris, the first non-European in that position, serving two terms from 1996 to 2006. Under his leadership, the OECD took major new initiatives in areas such as sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. Since then, he has remained active as a policy advisor, visiting professor, and serving on major international organizations including the McCall-MacBain Foundation (where he is chair), the International Risk Governance Council and the Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative. He holds honorary degrees from McGill, Bishop's, Queen's College and McMaster Universities. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada, the Legion d’honneur of France, Japan's Order of the Rising Sun, and similar honours from Slovakia, Hungary and Belgium.

I offer two brief comments, if I may, about a remarkable and continuing career. First, he reflects his interest in business and law; he may be seen as a committed centrist if I may say so, and a pragmatist, within the party and government which he so ably served. I asked him this evening if that old anecdote is true that he was the one who helped to save Dorval, now Trudeau International Airport in Montreal? Because, as a pragmatist and as Prime Minister Mr. Trudeau was well known for being somewhat frugal and as Prime Minster perhaps not entirely ‘au courant’ with the day to day costs of things. So, Mr. Johnston and the cabinet simply raised the matter. "Do you realise Prime Minister, how much it actually costs? Do you realize it is a $100 trip to go out by cab to Mirabel?" And the Prime Minister who had not paid for a cab in a long time, was absolutely shocked and appalled with that. And, the rest, as they say, is history. Mirabel was shut down and the much more convenient - to almost everybody else in Montreal - the airport in Dorval survived.

The second point I want to make is that for the past twenty years,Donald Johnston has applied his keen mind and leadership skills to international diplomacy and council at the OECD and many other organizations. Again, he has shown commitment to pragmatic but nonetheless steadily accruing and substantial reform of many aspects of international governance. Of the many key governance problems he has tackled, surely none has been as difficult as the issues surrounding climate change which is the topic of his lecture tonight.

So, ladies and gentlemen, students, members of the St. F. X. community, I am pleased to welcome this year’s Allan J. MacEachen Lecturer, the Honourable Donald Johnston.


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