A Conversation With the Right Honourable David Johnston

As our 30 brilliant finalists eagerly await the final verdict of the 2022 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellows, the Foundation’s management inaugurated the final and decisive stage of this prestigious selection with a unique and exclusive discussion among the finalists and none other than the Right Honourable David Johnston, 28th Governor General of Canada.


Finalists 2022 David Johnston


Invited to speak about his own leadership experience and to answer the 30 doctoral candidates’ questions about Global Economies, the founder and current president of the Rideau Hall Foundation honoured us with his presence on March 22.

A scholarly leader who has taught law for more than forty-five years and is also the author and co-author of more than thirty books, David Johnston launched the topic of Global Economies with a few words about the global challenges and forces that are having a significant impact on the world and its economies today: of course, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but also climate change, the digital revolution, globalization, the economic crisis of 2008, and finally, the COVID-19 pandemic. According to him, the global health crisis of the last two years has demonstrated as never before to the various nations of the world how all are not only vulnerable, but how all are interdependent on each other. These are certainly words to ponder in these rather troubled times on the international scene.

Interdependence requires a lot of mutual trust, so the conversation de facto drifted to the necessary trust between nations. David Johnston, author of Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country, was quick to recommend different readings to the thirty minds eager to understand a little better the role they might one day be called to play in the world.

Considering the questions posed by the candidates, the man who was made a colonel of the Royal Canadian Regiment in 2018, also emphasized how trust begins with oneself, every time, all the time, and that each aspiring leader must always ask himself or herself how he or she can be and remain a trustworthy person for others.

Several questions, all of them interesting, obviously arose during the conversation. What would the David Johnston of today recommend to the 25-year-old David Johnston? How do we break down the mistrust between nations? What is the trade-off to be made between innovation and equality? How do we transform institutions to reverse abuses of trust? Is there an optimal level of trust in society?

All the responses of the Right Honourable David Johnston undoubtedly resonated loudly in the heads and hearts of many of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s 2022 finalists, whether on Aboriginal and Native issues, Internet regulation, public education or even family.

But what will undoubtedly have left its mark during this session, and will have proven once again the profound leadership of David Johnston, will be this superb leadership lesson:

“You can climb the mountain, the ladder of your own career, be focused on your own success. But you can’t forget the immense, possibly much greater satisfaction you can get from working with others to help them climb their own mountain of their own.”

That’s great advice for the committed leaders of tomorrow.


Reading recommendations by the Right Honourable David Johnston:

—The Story of Civilization (10 volumes), by Will and Ariel Durant

—Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C. S. Lewis

—Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, by James A. Robinson

—The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies and the Fate of Liberty, by James A. Robinson