Donald Johnston R.I.P.

Written by  //  February 14, 2022  //  Absent Friends  //  No comments

THE HONOURABLE DONALD JAMES JOHNSTON P.C., O.C, Q.C. June 26, 1936 – Feb 4 2022
Donald James Johnston died peacefully on February 4th, 2022 in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, surrounded by loved ones. He was 85 years old. Dear husband for 56 years of Heather (nee Maclaren); and father to Kristina (Aaron Beck), Allison (Neil Bougourd), Rachel (Mark Mallet), and Sara. Grandfather to Charlotte Bougourd, Aidan and Cormac Mallet and Morgan Beck; and beloved uncle and great-uncle to many nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brother David Ian Johnston of Ancaster, Ontario.
Born in Ottawa, Donald lived most of his life in Montreal, where he attended the High School of Montreal and McGill University, graduating as Gold Medalist in Law in 1958. He made many lifelong friendships during these early years of his life, and was known for his loyalty, generosity, and practical jokes.
A founding partner of the law firm Johnston Heenan Blaikie, Donald was instrumental in the development of the Canadian film industry in the 1970s and has always been a strong supporter of Canadian representation in the arts.
In 1978 he turned his attention to federal politics and was elected as the Liberal representative for St Henri Westmount. He held key cabinet positions under Prime Ministers Pierre Trudeau and John Turner from 1978-1988, before stepping into the international role of Secretary-General of the OECD, in 1996.
Donald was the first non-European to lead the organization and was re-elected for a second term in 2001, where he was able to firmly cement new standards in global governance, sustainable development, and education. After stepping down from the OECD, Donald chaired the McCall MacBain Foundation for over a decade, while continuing to contribute his breadth of experience to various organizations, conferences, publications, and social causes important to him. He was humble about his many accomplishments but proud of the honours he received in his long career, including the Order of Canada, France’s Légion d’honneur and Japan’s Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun. Donald had many passions beyond his work and had a tremendous creative mind. He wrote three books throughout his career, and more recently, wrote a musical score “Montreal, Montréal” recorded by the McGill Symphony Orchestra. A playful and lively debater, his friends and family can attest to his engaging wit and endless curiosity, as well as his love and devotion to his dogs – and his enduring tennis serve. But perhaps the most quintessential image of Donald was him sitting at the piano, happily providing entertainment for the evening. His love of music and his love of people came together. Especially in Glen Sutton, his favourite place to invite his many friends from around the world to visit and enjoy the view. *** A memorial service honouring his life will be held later this spring. Funeral arrangements entrusted to the Désourdy funeral home 101 rue Jean-Besré Cowansville, Qc J2K 0L3 450-263-1212 www.desourdy.ca
Published by The Globe and Mail from Feb. 12 to Feb. 16, 2022.

14 February
Appreciation: Donald Johnston’s international legacy
Stephen J. Cutts
A former chief of staff at the OECD says Johnston will be remembered not only for his achievements, but also for his character — and humour.
In a globalizing world, where the OECD member countries’ share of the world economy was gradually shrinking, Don was conscious of the need for the OECD to remain relevant through both enlargement and its outreach program. He passionately advocated for the inclusion of the major economies, including China and Russia, in the economic work of the OECD, but was often confronted with opposition from member states objecting on the grounds that these countries were “insufficiently like-minded.” One of his bitterest disappointments was his inability to persuade members to make progress on accession talks with Russia, after it had applied for OECD membership. In his book Missing the Tide, he recounted his regret that the West had failed to engage effectively with reformers in a democratic Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Statement by the Prime Minister on the death of the Honourable Donald Johnston
He was a visionary leader, a gifted politician, and a dedicated educator. His contributions to Canada will not be forgotten.

‘A rough-weather friend’: Donald Johnston, former MP, dead at 85
(Financial Post) Donald Johnston, who had an illustrious career as a Canadian lawyer and politician, and worked to raise the principles of corporate governance, has died at age 85.
Johnston spent a decade in Canadian Parliament and also was the first non-European, and only Canadian, to serve as secretary general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international organization for countries that emphasize democracy and a market economy.
Friends said that throughout his career, which also included founding what became one of Canada’s largest corporate law firms, Johnston was known for his pro-free trade stance and centre-left politics, but also his sincerity as a friend.
“If you had any problems, he was more in contact with you than if things were going smoothly,” said Don Newman, the longtime CBC news broadcast veteran in Ottawa, and now a political consultant at Rubicon Strategies, who said he sometimes spoke daily with Johnston, in recent years.
“He wasn’t a fair-weather friend, he was a rough-weather friend, which I thought was remarkable,” Newman added.
In 1973, Johnston, after about 10 years of practicing law in Montreal, joined with Roy Heenan, and later Peter Blaikie, to found the law firm Johnston Heenan Blaikie. It grew into one of Canada’s largest corporate law firms (and imploded in 2014, though Johnston was no longer involved in its management). After Johnston had entered politics and attained cabinet positions, the firm had dropped his name from the letterhead, to just Heenan Blaikie, and he had stepped down.
In 1978, Johnston was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal MP for the Montreal riding of Saint-Henri–Westmount. He held several cabinet positions including m inister of state for science and technology and minister of state for economic and regional development under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Norman Bacal, managing partner of Heenan Blaikie from 1997 to 2013, said Johnston’s clients at the firm had included many famous actors and actresses, including Donald Sutherland.
Bacal recalled how other partners drafted a “mock” newsletter shortly after Johnston took a cabinet position, which said he would still be “accessible to all clients.” Then, they slipped it into a sheaf of other papers and waited.
“Don finally picks up the phone, and he’s apoplectic … because the one thing, the only thing, that would have driven him insane was the notion that he would not maintain complete independence,” said Bacal. “Of course, Roy (Heenan) had gathered a bunch of partners on speakerphone and they all burst into hysterics.”
He said the fact that Johnston, who would go on to lead the Liberal party as president from 1990 to 1994, had worked so closely with Peter Blaikie, who led the Progressive Conservative party in the 1980s, was characteristic of his non-partisan attitudes.
In 1988, while in Parliament, Johnston briefly split from his party by supporting a free trade agreement with the U.S., and opposed the Meech Lake Accord, which ultimately failed but proposed amending the Constitution to strengthen provincial powers and to declare Quebec a distinct society. He served as an “independent Liberal” until the end of the year, then left Parliament.
In 1990, he started the first of two terms as president of the Liberal party.
“ He was very, very smart, very strategic and a helluva nice guy, too,” said Edward Goldenberg, a former chief of staff and senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien .
Goldenberg said Johnston was a generous friend, who often lent out a house he owned in a small village in the south of France.
The next major turn in Johnston’s career came when he was elected secretary general of the OECD, serving two terms from 1996 to 2006. During his tenure, the organization developed standards of corporate social responsibility, called for an end to harmful tax practices, and looked to establish metrics to compare international education.
In his book about Heenan Blaikie, Bacal described Johnston as a man of many talents, recounting how he would play contemporary hits on the piano to entertain guests over cocktails, and how he always emphasized direct confrontation over backroom strategy, employing the motto “If there were any knives, they went in the chest.”
Newman said that in recent years Johnston had been spending much of his time in his country house in the eastern townships of Quebec, and had faced bouts with pancreatic cancer and Lyme disease.

Donald Johnston: “Life wouldn’t be interesting without music”
While people remember Donald Johnston as a cabinet minister under Pierre Trudeau and the former President of the Liberal Party of Canada, many don’t know he is also an accomplished composer (McGill Reporter 15 October 2019)
You can hear Don Johnston’s composition Montreal here: youtube.com/watch?v=QVIlrXJvFUo

Brownstein: Former federal cabinet minister Don Johnston’s musical interlude
Former politician is also a musician. When he came across a piece he had composed for a film that was never produced, he revived it, and called it Montreal
Having caught up to him this week, Johnston is coaxed into playing the piece on the Mount Royal Club piano. Despite his protestations about his fingers not being up for the job, the 81-year-old composer performs admirably.
Ever self-deprecatory, Johnston recalls one of his most public concerts. It was following the 1984 Liberal leadership race, in which he ran, but lost to John Turner.
“I was about $400,000 in debt following that race, so it was decided that we would hold a fundraiser in the then-Alcan atrium. I knew I was going to play the piano, but I didn’t know they were going to dress me up as Elton John. It went well, but then the city of Montreal imposed an amusement tax of $8,000 — which was unfortunate, because we needed all the money we raised.
“People who had attended the evening were confused. Some wondered how this concert could be construed as amusing, and said they would have paid more if I hadn’t played,” he muses.
For a former politico, Johnston, surprisingly, doesn’t handle praise well. Those who have heard his Montreal piece have been near-unanimous in their appreciation.
… One of those taken by the Montreal score was Leonard Cohen, to whom Johnston had sent a recording shortly before the troubadour passed away in 2016. “Listened to Montreal,” Cohen wrote Johnston. “One hell of a piece of music. Didn’t know you were a composer. Great work. Thank you, Don.”
… Johnston may have given up his law practice, but he is not slowing down. He is still a going concern, consulting on public policy, making speaking appearances and writing. His third book, released last year, Missing the Tide: Global Governments in Retreat, clearly indicates he’s up to speed on international developments. (13 April 2018)

‘Johnston, Donald James’ in IO BIO, Biographical Dictionary of Secretaries-General of International Organizations

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