It is true that David Johnston is an older, whiter, maler, anglo-er Governor-General than his charismatic predecessor, but such attributes do not disqualify him from vice regal office, nor do they lend any credence to an alleged agenda of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's to return Canada to some sort of 19th century Macdonaldian idyll. In fact, Mr. Johnston is proof that charisma can take different forms, and a commitment to diversity can have different faces.
During a meeting with the Globe's editorial board, Mr. Johnston was asked pointedly about the contentious debate around the niqab and the oath of citizenship: "Does there need to be more of a uniformity among those taking the oath, or a greater expression of diversity?" It is obviously a fraught subject for the holder of an office meant to be aloof from politics, yet Mr. Johnston did not blink: "I think if I had to make a choice it would be the latter. I think the great gift of this country is, from diversity has come unity."
Mr. Johnston spoke with refreshing candour, he remained true to his passionate belief in diversity, and yet he did so in a way that should not offend the government or provoke questions around constitutional niceties. The Governor-General addressed a wide range of issues, from aboriginal education to the legal profession's failure to advance women, and demonstrated a knack for speaking with authority on things that matter, yet in a way that does not provoke controversy. On the treatment of women lawyers, the Governor-General -- himself a lawyer and former law professor -- defended his remarks to the Canadian Bar Association where he spoke of the failure to advance women in the profession: "We take an oath to improve the administration of justice. That's a sacred trust."
Mr. Johnston displayed a command of the role of Governor-General, an office too often misunderstood in a country that has suffered an erosion of civics teaching. He also confirmed that the practice of regular audiences with the Prime Minister has been revived. The Queen's traditional rights to be consulted, encourage, and when necessary, to warn, are of importance to our system of government and Mr. Harper will benefit from the Governor-General's counsel. Mr. Johnston has expressed an admiration for Vincent Massey, one of his eminent predecessors. Just 15 months into his term as Queen's representative, he is proving a worthy successor.