The more I think about this David Johnston appointment, the more I’m inclined to revise my initial reaction. This isn’t just a good choice. It’s an outstanding choice: the best, on paper, since Michener. (We’ll see how he actually performs in the job.)
There are few Canadians with lives more filled with accomplishment, or whose character is more widely respected. As such, he brings not only impressive practical credentials to a job that, as we have been reminded of late, is much more than a ceremonial post. His selection also offers an important signal of what we value as a society, of the qualities we think are important, of what we aspire to: experience, scholarship, service to others, personal decency.
I was critical of Johnston’s work in framing the terms of reference for the Mulroney inquiry, but I don’t have the slightest doubt that it reflected his honest judgment of what was in the public interest. And it’s a small complaint set against his remarkable lifetime of achievement. Distinguished legal scholar, with degrees from Cambridge, Harvard and Queen’s. Principal of McGill University. President of University of Waterloo. A list of publications and public service involvements as long as your arm. Fluently bilingual. Father of five. Captain of the Harvard hockey team (!). And, the clincher, a stint as a CBC broadcaster (he hosted a political talk show, The Editors, that was seen on Newsworld): the fourth Governor General in a row, and fifth in the last six, with that distinction.
In sum, the appointment of David Johnston is of a kind that ennobles the office, rather than the reverse. Which is as it should be.
CAVEAT: On the other hand, he did spend several years living outside of the country. I take it the Conservatives no longer consider this a disqualification for high office.