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Sault Collegiate grad David Johnston has just been named Queen Elizabeth II's newest advisor on state and constitutional affairs
johnston, david GG
Former Governor General David Johnston

Sault MP Terry Sheehan sent a congratulatory note and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau booked time yesterday to attend the Right Honourable David Johnston's swearing-in to the Queen's Privy Council for Canada.

Johnston, the Saultite who served as Governor-General of Canada from 2010 to 2017, was appointed Monday for life as a personal advisor to Queen Elizabeth II on state and constitutional matters.

The ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa was a private affair attended mostly by family members, Sheehan tells SooToday.

In fact, however, Johnston's new gig is pretty much all ceremonial.

He shares the advisory role with 400 other Privy Council appointees, including all past and present members of the federal cabinet.

"Privy Councillors are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the prime minister, and membership is for life, unless a member is dismissed by the Governor General on the same advice," said Eugene A. Forsey, a constitutional expert and Privy Council member, in his 1980 book How Canadians Govern Themselves.

"All cabinet ministers and former cabinet ministers are always members, as are the chief justice of Canada and former chief justices and, usually, ex-speakers of the Senate and of the House of Commons. Various other prominent citizens can be made members simply as a mark of honour," Forsey wrote.

"The whole Privy Council as such never meets. Only the ministers and a handful of non-ministers attend the rare ceremonial occasions when the Privy Council is called together, such as proclaiming the accession of a new king or queen and consenting to a royal marriage."

The federal cabinet is the Privy Council's operative body, Forsey said.

The last Privy Council get-together was in 1981, when the group consented to the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana

But yesterday's appointment was still a high honour for a distinguished Canadian who spent most of his youth in the Sault.

Born in Copper Cliff, Johnston grew up in Sault Ste. Marie.

His father had a hardware store here.

"He was a friend of my father-in-law Ken Bradford," says MP Sheehan.

"The family lived on Woodward Avenue while Sharon Downey, Mr. Johnston's high-school sweetheart  they met at 13 – lived on well-to-do Summit Avenue, as he puts it 'on the other side of the tracks'," wrote The Globe and Mail's Roy MacGregor in a biographical sketch last year.

"Following the family’s move to Sault Ste. Marie, he attended Sault Collegiate Institute and played under-17 hockey with future hockey hall of famers Phil and Tony Esposito," said an official biography prepared for Johnston during his governor-general years. "Mr Johnston went on to attend Harvard University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963, twice being selected to the All-American hockey team on his way to being named to Harvard’s athletic hall of fame."

Last month, U Sports, the national brand for university sports in Canada, announced that its men’s hockey championship trophy would be renamed the David Johnston University Cup.

Next month, Johnston will be in Washington D.C., one of a dozen recipients of 2018 Horatio Alger Awards recognizing perseverance, integrity and commitment to excellence in individuals who have overcome significant challenges to achieve professional and personal success.

Co-recipients will include television actor, producer, writer and director Rob Lowe, country music legend Reba McEntire and H. Lee Scott, Jr., former Walmart president and chief executive officer.

"His father struggled with his business and often faced unemployment; his mother worked as a nurse until the loss of her sight forced her to stop," said a Horatio Alger Foundation news release about Johnston.

"From the age of nine, Johnston worked along with his two siblings to support the family. An adept athlete, Johnston turned down a professional hockey career in order to focus on his education. With hard work and perseverance, Johnston was admitted to Harvard and received an academic scholarship."

"Johnston’s life remains one of service. Before being appointed Governor General in 2010, he spent his career in various university posts, including as a professor of law at Queen’s and the University of Toronto, as dean of University of Western Ontario Law School, as president and vice-chancellor of McGill University, and as president of the University of Waterloo," the release said.

This year's Horatio Alger Award celebrations will take place April 5 to Apr. 7, with events at the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Department of State, the historic Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium and Daughters of the Revolution Constitution Hall.

David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans six decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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