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Rita Margaret Johnston

Photograph of Rita Margaret Johnston

First woman Premier in Canada.

Born in Melville, Saskatchewan on April 22, 1935.


Political Affiliation: Social Credit

Legislative Career: First elected to the British Columbia Legislature in the 1983 provincial election for the Surrey riding. She was re-elected in the 1986 provincial election in the Surrey-Newton riding and represented that riding until her defeat in 1991.

Her Cabinet appointments include: Minister of Municipal Affairs (1986), Minister of Municipal Affairs and Transit (1986-88), Minister of State for the Kootenay Region (1987-88), Minister of Municipal Affairs, Recreation and Culture (1988-89), Minister of Transportation and Highways (1989-1991), Deputy Premier (1990-1991).

She was chosen acting premier on April 2, 1991 and was elected leader at the Social Credit leadership convention on July 20, 1991. She served as Premier until her party's defeat in the provincial general election on October 17, 1991.

Rita Johnston, Canada's first woman premier, began her political career in 1969 at the municipal level when she was elected councillor in Surrey, British Columbia. At that time Mrs. Johnston and her husband operated a mobile home park in Surrey and she had been active in the Surrey Chamber of Commerce and the Newton Ratepayers' Association. Her interest in municipal politics was sparked by dealings with the municipality during the establishment of her family business. Bill Vander Zalm, future Premier of British Columbia, was elected Mayor of Surrey in the 1969 municipal election in which Mrs. Johnston was first elected councillor. In 1975 when Mr. Vander Zalm went on to provincial politics as Surrey's Member of the Legislative Assembly, Mrs. Johnston ran for mayor of Surrey losing by less than 100 votes. She again served Council terms for the District of Surrey from 1978-1980 and 1982-1983. In 1983 when Mr. Vander Zalm resigned after two terms as Surrey's Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Rita Johnston succeeded him as Social Credit candidate in the riding. She won the riding in the 1983 provincial general election and was re-elected in 1986 in the Surrey-Newton riding.

In the Legislature, she held the positions of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources (1985-86) and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Municipal Affairs (1986) prior to being appointed to Cabinet by Premier Vander Zalm in 1986. As a cabinet minister, Mrs. Johnston had a reputation of being a hard worker, attentive to input from stakeholders, and a team player.

Upon Premier Vander Zalm's resignation in April 1991, Mrs. Johnston was chosen interim leader of the Social Credit Party by the party caucus thus becoming Acting Premier and the first woman premier in Canada. Johnston was quoted upon being chosen leader: "I think you will find more emphasis placed on violence against women, violence against children and seniors, and the issues that have not been addressed by Social Credit traditionally in past years." On July 20, 1991, she was officially elected leader at the Social Credit leadership Convention.

In the provincial general election of October 17, 1991, Mrs. Johnston's Social Credit government was defeated and Mrs. Johnston was defeated in her own riding. She resigned as Social Credit leader on January 11, 1992.


Baldrey, Keith. — "Johnston in limelight at last: new premier was content in the shadow of Vander Zalm". — Toronto Star. — April 8, 1991. — p. A13.

Jessop, Ian. — "Minister of Municipal Affairs: Rita Johnston" (Interview). — British Columbia Politics & Policy. — Vol. 2, no. 5 (June 1988). — p. 12 - 13.

Lautens, Trevor. — "Our first woman first minister". — Vancouver Sun. — April 6, 1991. — p. B5.

Quinn, Hal. — "A first in Victoria: Premier Rita Johnston sets her own course". — Maclean's. — Vol. 104, no. 15 (April 15, 1991). — p. 14.

St. Louis, Jill. — "Rita Johnston est élue chef des créditistes de Colombie-Britannique". — La Presse. — 21 juillet 1991. — p. A1-2.

Wilson, Deborah. — "Newest premier under microscope". — Globe and Mail. — April 15, 1991. — p. A4.

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