The Honourable Donald J. Johnston, P.C., O.C., Q.C., joined our Montréal office’s International Business Law group in 2006, after having spent ten years as Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.
Throughout his impressive career, Mr. Johnston has alternated between his two passions: law and politics. Having graduated as a Gold Medallist from McGill University's Faculty of Law in 1958, he went on to pursue advanced studies in economics and political science in Grenoble. Upon his return to Quebec, he practised business and tax law for several years. In 1973, along with Roy Heenan and Peter Blaikie, he founded the firm Johnston Heenan Blaikie, the core of our modern firm. In 1978, he was elected Member of Parliament for Westmount. As a member of the Trudeau government, he successively held the positions of President of the Treasury Board, Minister of State for Science and Technology, Minister of State for Economic and Regional Development, and Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
He resumed the practice of law with Heenan Blaikie in 1988, before becoming president of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1990, from which position he helped bring the party to power in 1993. The following year he was encouraged by the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, then Prime Minister, to submit his candidacy for the position of Secretary-General of the OECD. Following a vigorously contested competition, he won the post in November 1994.
As the first non-European to occupy this prestigious position, Mr. Johnston began his mandate in 1996 and was elected to a second term in 2001. Over the course of a decade in office, he breathed new life into the world’s most influential international economic institution. 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 economic issues including financial markets, trade and investment, taxation and corporate governance.
Under Mr. 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 Mr. Johnston introduced to the OECD agenda shortly after his arrival.
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.
In recognition of his accomplishments at the OECD, Mr. Johnston was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, the second most prestigious Japanese decoration and the highest one that can be bestowed on a non-Japanese. He received the Grand-Croix de l’Ordre de Léopold II, one of the highest honorific distinctions of Belgium, given by royal decree and generally reserved for heads of state. He was also presented with the Commander’s Cross with the Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic by the President of Hungary and the Order of the White Double Cross, First Class, by the President of the Slovak Republic.
In July 2008, Mr. Johnston was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada, in recognition of his contributions to public service in Canada as well as his achievements at the OECD. In 2011, he was named Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honour by the Government of France.
He is AV® PreeminentTM Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell, the highest peer review rating awarded to a lawyer for his legal skills and sense of ethics.
In returning to Heenan Blaikie, Mr. Johnston brings to the firm a wealth of experience in all these areas, as well as a practical sense of the interplay between public policy and the law within the context of domestic and international business. The many years he has spent in politics and practising law, combined with his personal knowledge of key personnel in the governments and civil service of more than 100 countries, give Mr. Johnston a singular familiarity with the way in which the economies of the major world nations are administered and actually function, and with how business is conducted in those countries.
The importance of Mr. Johnston’s achievements has been recognized on numerous occasions, especially in the form of honorary doctorates from McGill University, Bishop's University, King’s College, McMaster University and the Economics University of Bratislava, Slovakia.
As a key member of our International Business Law group, Mr. Johnston is in a unique position to guide our clients as they seek to expand their businesses in an increasingly complex and competitive global environment.
Mr. Johnston sits on the Board of the Montreal Economic Institute, a research and educational think tank whose mission is to put forward inventive and novel economic strategies for the development of sound public policies.
- B.A., McGill University, 1960
- B.C.L., McGill University, 1958