Upon taking office as secretary-general of the OECD on 1 June 1996, Donald Johnston moved from a career as a lawyer and a politician who had spent ten years in the Canadian Parliament and had served as a Cabinet minister in a number of senior portfolios.
Mr. Johnston was a member of parliament from 1978 to 1988. He served in the Cabinet, first as the president of the Treasury Board, then as the minister of state for economic and regional development, the minister of science and technology, and the minister of justice and the attorney general of Canada. With the defeat of the Liberal government in 1984, Mr. Johnston became the Opposition critic for finance and, later, for external affairs.
In 1990, Mr. Johnston was elected president of the Liberal Party of Canada. In 1992, he was re-elected and held the post through the election in 1993 that returned the Liberal Party to power. His decision to leave politics was partly due to his disagreement with his party on his support for the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States and his opposition to the Meech Lake Accord.
Mr. Johnston studied arts and law at McGill University, graduating from law in 1958 as the Gold Medallist. He holds honorary doctorates in law from McGill University and King’s College and in economics from Bratislava. Having taught fiscal law at McGill University from 1963 to 1976, he has written many articles on taxation, law, and public affairs and is the author of several books, including a best-selling political memoir. Mr. Johnston is a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and the Queen's Counsel. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and was awarded France's Legion of Honour in 2011.