When Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that governor-general designate David Johnston "represents the best of Canada," it is no exaggeration. Mr. Johnston is an outstanding choice to succeed Michaëlle Jean as the Queen's representative and is a worthy successor to the last academic leader to hold the post, Vincent Massey. Mr. Harper deserves credit for taking so seriously his responsibility to advise the Queen on the appointment.
Currently president of the University of Waterloo, Mr. Johnston's life has been marked throughout by achievement. He is the former principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University, former president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, former chair of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and former chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy. He has a dozen honorary degrees, has held the Order of Canada for 22 years, having risen in 1997 to its highest rank - companion - and is even a member of the Harvard University Sports Hall of Fame. His practical credentials, as a legal scholar, together with his astonishing contributions to education and public policy, lend weight to an office often mistaken as being purely ceremonial.
There have been conspiratorial musings about Mr. Johnston's role in advising the Prime Minister on the fairly narrow terms of reference for the Oliphant Commission's inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair, although these seem petty in the context of his remarkable career and the absence of a shred of evidence that his advice was given in anything but good faith.
Mr. Harper, who has been widely and justly criticized for misusing the royal prerogative powers around prorogation, approached the appointment of the next governor-general with both rigour and evident respect for the office. He established a non-partisan "eminent persons" committee of six to provide a short-list of candidates. The group included Kevin MacLeod, Usher of the Black Rod and Canadian secretary to the Queen, Sheila-Marie Cook, secretary to the Governor-General, Father Jacques Monet of the Canadian Institute of Jesuit Studies, Christopher Manfredi, dean of the Faculty of Arts at McGill, University of Calgary political scientist Rainer Knopff and historian Christopher McCreery, private secretary to the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia. They canvassed more than 200 people for suggestions, including premiers, civic leaders, former prime ministers and even opposition leaders Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton.
It was from their shortlist, which included other distinguished Canadians, such as soldier and diplomat John de Chastelain and John Fraser, the master of Massey College, that Mr. Johnston's name was selected by Mr. Harper, who provided his advice to the Queen. The dignified selection process, and the resulting appointment, which takes effect with Mr. Johnston's installation on Oct. 1, are worthy of the office of Governor-General.