Rita Johnston

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Rita Margaret Johnston
29th Premier of British Columbia
In office
April 2, 1991 – November 5, 1991
Monarch Elizabeth II
Lieutenant Governor David Lam
Preceded by Bill Vander Zalm
Succeeded by Mike Harcourt
Minister of Municipal Affairs of British Columbia
In office
August 14, 1986 – November 1, 1989
Premier Bill Vander Zalm
Preceded by Jack Heinrich
Succeeded by Lyall Hanson
Minister of State, Kootenay of British Columbia
In office
October 22, 1987 – July 6, 1988
Premier Bill Vander Zalm
Minister of Transportation and Highways of British Columbia
In office
November 1, 1989 – April 2, 1991
Premier Bill Vander Zalm
Preceded by Neil Vant
Succeeded by Art Charbonneau
Deputy Premier of British Columbia
In office
August 10, 1990 – April 2, 1991
Premier Bill Vander Zalm
Preceded by Grace McCarthy
Succeeded by Anita Hagen
MLA for Surrey
In office
May 5, 1983 – October 22, 1986
Serving with William Earl Reid
Preceded by Bill Vander Zalm
Ernest Hall
Succeeded by riding dissolved
MLA for Surrey-Newton
In office
October 22, 1986 – October 17, 1991
Preceded by first member
Succeeded by Penny Priddy
Personal details
Born Rita Margaret Leichert
(1935-04-22) April 22, 1935 (age 83)
Melville, Saskatchewan
Political party Social Credit Party (1983-?)
BC Conservative (c. 2009-present)
Spouse(s) George Johnston (m. 1951)

Rita Margaret Johnston (born April 22, 1935; née Leichert) is a Canadian politician in British Columbia. Johnston became the first female premier in Canadian history when she succeeded Bill Vander Zalm in 1991 to become the 29th Premier of British Columbia.

The daughter of John Leichert and Annie Chyzzy, she was educated in Vancouver. In 1951, she married George Johnston.[1]

Much of her early life was spent running a successful trailer park in the city of Surrey, British Columbia.

She first entered politics as a city councillor in Surrey. In 1983, she was elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia as part of the Social Credit Party, representing the provincial riding of Surrey.

She was reelected in 1986 in the newly created riding of Surrey-Newton, and became a cabinet minister under Premier Bill Vander Zalm, serving in various portfolios. She had previously served under Vander Zalm when she was a councilor and he was the mayor of Surrey.

Vander Zalm appointed Johnston deputy premier in 1990. When Vander Zalm resigned on April 2, 1991, Johnston was named interim leader of the party. As such, she was appointed premier on April 2, 1991; making her Canada's first female premier.

At a Social Credit party convention in July 1991 she was formally elected leader of the BC Socreds in an upset, defeating the favoured front-runner Grace McCarthy. However, she had little time to implement any new programs, since she faced a statutory general election in October. The party was also bitterly divided due to the leadership contest, and had little time to repair the breach before the writs were dropped.

Johnston's long association with the scandal-plagued Vander Zalm significantly hampered her prospects of winning election in her own right, and she was soundly defeated by the New Democratic Party led by Mike Harcourt. Moreover, many moderate Socreds switched their support to the previously moribund BC Liberals. The Socreds lost more than half their popular vote from 1986 and were cut down to seven seats, falling to third place in the Legislative Assembly behind the NDP and Liberals. Johnston herself lost her own seat to the NDP's Penny Priddy by over 10 points. Harcourt later said that he preferred facing Johnston rather than McCarthy, since he felt McCarthy would have been a tougher opponent.

She resigned as leader of the Social Credit Party on January 11, 1992, and was replaced by McCarthy. Following her defeat Johnston retired from politics and has had a low public profile. She returned to public life in 2009 as an advisor for the British Columbia Conservative Party.


  1. Normandin, P G (1986). Canadian Parliamentary Guide, 1986.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>