Born on October 18, 1923, at Insinger, Saskatchewan, Johnson enjoyed a stellar career in the public service of Saskatchewan for nineteen years before going on to the public service of Canada, to the presidency of the CBC, to university teaching and research, and to the development of the South Africa/Canada Program on Governance. Johnson studied at the universities of Saskatchewan and Toronto, where he received degrees in political economy. It was from Toronto that Johnson was recruited to the public service of Saskatchewan by the Adult Education Division (1945). Twelve months later he was appointed to the newly created Budget Bureau. In 1949, Johnson was made responsible for advising on machinery of government and management processes. In 1952, at the age of 28, he was appointed Deputy Provincial Treasurer; in this position for the next twelve years, he was responsible for recruiting and developing a generation of some of the most dynamic public servants to serve in Saskatchewan and Canada. Originally based on a PhD dissertation he wrote while on educational leave at Harvard, Johnson's book Dream No Little Dreams describes in detail the workings of the T.C. Douglas government.
In 1964, Johnson left Saskatchewan for the government of Canada, where he was appointed Assistant Deputy Minister of Finance responsible for federal-provincial fiscal relations. In this capacity he played a pivotal role in the introduction of national medicare; in the development of a new system for the equalization by the federal government of provincial government revenues; and in the design of a new and greatly expanded system of federal grants to the provinces for the financing of Canada's rapidly expanding universities and colleges. In 1968 he was appointed as Prime Minister Trudeau's economic adviser on the Constitution, and helped generate a series of national working papers on constitutional issues confronting Canada's governments. In 1970, Johnson was appointed Secretary of the Treasury Board. In 1973 he became the Deputy Minister of National Welfare, from which position he conducted with his provincial colleagues, directed by Canada's ministers of welfare, a major review of Canada's social security system. In 1975 Prime Minister Trudeau appointed Johnson to the presidency of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, from which position he strove to increase the quality, quantity and exposure of Canadian programming. After his retirement in 1982, Johnson was appointed professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto and to short-term research chairs at Queens and at the Canadian Centre for Research and Development. During the 1990s, he oversaw a major governance program to assist in the establishment of a multi-racial democracy in South Africa.
Gregory P. Marchildon