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David Johnston leaves Parliament Hill by landau after being sworn-in as Canada's 28th Governor General in Ottawa October 1, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
David Johnston leaves Parliament Hill by landau after being sworn-in as Canada's 28th Governor General in Ottawa October 1, 2010. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

David Johnston is the enigma-general Add to ...

The contrast between Governor-General David Johnston and his immediate predecessor could not have been displayed more prominently at Friday's installation ceremony. Michaëlle Jean was a radiant presence, giving gracious interviews, tugging at heartstrings, capturing the limelight, just as she has done all week in a series of well-scripted "adieu" moments. Mr. Johnston, meanwhile, emerged from his own big day as something of an enigma.

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The landscape was forever changed by Ms. Jean, and before her, Adrienne Clarkson. The vice-regal office is no longer aloof, but has been enlivened, and made relevant. A distinguished Canadian with a formidable CV and a compelling narrative of his own, Mr. Johnston will need to share more of himself. His installation address had its moments, as when he cited Georges Vanier's call to serve, but it was impersonal, mentioning some worthy "pillars" of his mandate, family, education, innovation, philanthropy and volunteerism, without giving any real sense of why he cares so deeply about them.

The one bit of poetry in his address came in the form of a few lines of Shaw - "Some people see things as they are and wonder why / We dream of things that ought to be and ask why not" - already made famous and forever associated with Robert F. Kennedy.

A respite from on-the-sleeve emotion is probably welcome. Mr. Johnston has a different style. For a man who has been at the centre of the country's polity for several decades, he remains charmingly folksy, informal. But Mr. Johnston is arguably the most qualified viceroy Canada has seen in a quarter-century. He does, as Mr. Harper said at the time Mr. Johnston's appointment was announced, "represent the best of Canada."

His Order of Canada citation says simply and aptly that his name "is synonymous with leadership." When he speaks of a "smart and caring nation" he is the virtual embodiment of it. This formidable Canadian's great challenge, then, will be to allow people some insight into what has motivated him on his remarkable journey from Sudbury, to become the Queen's representative.

 

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