Johnston, Rita Margaret

Rita Margaret Johnston, née Leichert, politician, premier of British Columbia (b at Melville, Sask 22 April 1935). Johnson's political career began when she was elected alderman in Surrey, BC, in 1970, a position that she held continuously until 1983, when she was elected to the provincial assembly as a Social Credit member. From 1970 to 1975 she served on the council of Mayor William VANDER ZALM. When Premier William BENNETT retired in 1986 Johnston helped to persuade Vander Zalm to run for the leadership and she worked on his successful campaign. In Aug 1986 she joined Vander Zalm's Cabinet as minister of municipal affairs and transit.

Re-elected in 1986 she remained loyal to the premier amid almost continuous controversy surrounding him and she moved to one Cabinet position after another as the Cabinet was torn by resignations, scandals and defections. Finally in 1990 Vander Zalm made her deputy premier, and when he resigned on 2 April 1991 she became premier, the province's 29th and the first woman to serve as premier in Canada. On 20 July her leadership was narrowly confirmed at a party convention, but her efforts to dissociate herself from the discredited former premier brought her and her party to defeat at the hands of the NDP on 17 October 1991. She lost her own seat in the process and retired from public office.