Donald Johnston

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Person.png Donald Johnston   SourcewatchRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(politician, lawyer)
Donald Johnston.jpg
BornDonald James Johnston
Ottawa, Ontario
Alma materMcGill University
PartyLiberal Party of Canada, 1978–1988, 1990–present, Independent Liberal, 1988
Attended 1997 Bilderberg as Secretary-General of the OECD.

Employment.png Secretary-General of the OECD

In office
June 1996 - June 2006
Succeeded byÁngel Gurría

Donald James Johnston is a Canadian former politician, lawyer, and was Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from 1996 to 2006.

Early life

Donald Johnston was born in Ottawa, Ontario. He attended McGill University receiving his BA and graduating as a Gold Medallist from the University's Faculty of Law in 1958, receiving his BCL. In 1958, Johnston went on to pursue advanced studies in economics and political science in Grenoble.

Early legal career

In 1961, he joined the Montreal-based law firm of Stikeman Elliott, practicing business and tax law. In 1973, he was a founding partner of Johnston Heenan Blaikie, along with Roy Heenan and Peter Blaikie. From 1964 to 1977, he was a lecturer in fiscal law in the Faculty of Law of McGill University.

Political career

Johnston was first elected to the House of Commons of Canada in a 1978 by-election in Westmount in Montreal, Quebec, as a candidate of the Liberal Party of Canada. As a member of the cabinet of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau from 1980 to 1984, Johnston successively held the positions of President of the Treasury Board, Minister of State for Science and Technology, and Minister of State for Economic and Regional Development.

When Trudeau announced his retirement in 1984, Johnston ran to succeed him as Liberal leader and prime minister in that year's Liberal leadership convention. Johnston came in third in a field of seven, behind John Turner and Jean Chrétien. Johnston served as Minister of Justice and Attorney General in the short-lived Turner government until its defeat in the 1984 federal election.

In opposition Johnston and Turner split over the issue of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and the Meech Lake Accord: in an attempt to reconcile the divided Liberal caucus on those issues, Turner decided to support the Accord and to oppose free trade. Johnston was opposed to the Accord and for free trade, and on January 18, 1988, he resigned from the Liberal caucus to sit as an "Independent Liberal" until he retired from Parliament when the 1988 general election was called.

Johnston returned to the Liberal fold in 1990, after Turner's resignation as leader, and served two terms as president of the Liberal Party of Canada from 1990 to 1994, seeing the party through its victory in the 1993 general election.


In 1994, the government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien proposed Johnston for the position of Secretary-General of the OECD. Johnston was elected to the post in November 1994 by the organization's member governments.

As the first non-European to occupy this prestigious position, Johnston began his mandate in 1996 and was elected to a second term in 2001. During his administration, the OECD represented 30 of the most advanced national economies and expanded its engagement to more than 70 non-members, with special country programs for Russia, China, Brazil and India. While the OECD is a forum for macroeconomic policy issues, it also deals with virtually all underlying structural issues including financial markets, trade and investment, taxation and corporate governance.

Under Johnston’s stewardship, the OECD took the global lead in establishing the Principles of Corporate Governance (now the world standard) and revised the Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the bedrock of what is now known as corporate social responsibility. The Organisation also championed the correction of international harmful tax practices and the international harmonization of competition policy, while at the same time fostering sustainable development, which Johnston introduced to the OECD shortly after his arrival. He also created the Education Directorate which introduced the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA), now the leading reference for international educational comparisons.

OECD recommendations in these areas have been critical in enabling countries to structurally adapt to the challenges of globalization while maximizing its benefits to their economies.

Johnston stepped down from his position at the OECD on May 31, 2006.[1]

Later legal career

In 2006, Johnston rejoined Heenan Blaikie as a member of the International Business Law Group (the firm was dissolved in 2014). He focused his practice on national and international business law, working with clients to expand their businesses in an increasingly complex and competitive global environment. He is a frequent speaker around the world, addressing a broad range of issues including climate change and energy initiatives.


Event Participated in

Bilderberg/199712 June 199715 June 1997US
Lake Lanier
Georgia (State)
The 45th Bilderberg meeting