March 25, 2011 / 3:06 PM / 7 years ago

Canada viceroy brings legal expertise at crucial time

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The likely dissolution of Parliament, and then possible maneuvering to form a government after a new election will put Canadian Governor General David Johnston firmly into the political spotlight.

Johnston, a law professor, took over in October 2010 as the representative of Canada’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth. He is the go-to person when Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to dissolve Parliament, an inevitability after a likely vote of nonconfidence in the government on Friday.

Johnston will also have a role after the election that follows some five weeks of campaigning, talking with the leaders of political parties as they negotiate to see which is most likely to form a stable and successful government.

That’s a break from the ceremonial duties that form the lion’s share of the governor general’s responsibilities, but one for which Johnston appears better suited than his three predecessors, all of them former journalists.

Johnston was a law professor for much of his life and was previously president of the University of Waterloo in Ontario. He has law degrees from Queen’s University in Ontario and the University of Cambridge in England.

He has also chaired government-appointed commissions, including one that set boundaries for a public inquiry into dealings between businessman Karlheinz Schreiber and former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, a scandal that had tarnished Mulroney’s reputation.

Some pundits criticized him for making the terms of reference for that inquiry -- which involved allegations of secret commissions -- too narrow.

Johnston is also the first Canadian-born anglophone governor general since Ray Hnatyshyn was replaced in 1995.

Born on June 28, 1941, he is married with five daughters.

The position of governor general can have a critical role in settling constitutional questions that can arise when there are minority governments, a situation that has been the case in Canada since 2004.

Johnston’s predecessor, Michaelle Jean, twice agreed to requests by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper to suspend Parliament, acting on one of those occasions against objections from the opposition.

If the Conservatives again win the most seats in the House of Commons, but fail to win a majority in the next election, Johnston might have to decide whether to allow smaller parties to try to form a coalition, or to invite Harper to try again with a minority -- effectively choosing the government.

Editing by Janet Guttsman

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