ViewPoint: La Creme De La Creme – Davey Johnston


By Peter Chow

Justin Trudeau is only the tip of the iceberg –  the iceberg being that, because of the nature of our political systems, we don’t end up with anything close to the best and brightest as leaders.

Logically, you’d want an intelligent person who understands the best approach and methods for running a country in the best possible way.

But voters are always drawn to demonstrations of questionable intellectual abilities.

There are a wide variety of ideological, cultural, social, historical, financial and other factors involved, because politics incorporates all of these things, but there are also some known psychological processes that may contribute to this phenomenon.

Confident people are more convincing.

This has been demonstrated in many studies.

It’s a phenomenon used-car salesmen and real estate agents have exploited for decades.

And politicians are clearly aware of it, hence all the media training and PR management;  any politician that doesn’t come across as assured and super-confident gets destroyed.

So, confidence is important in politics.

However, the Dunning-Kruger effect reveals that less-intelligent people are usually incredibly confident.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.

Essentially, low ability people do not possess the intellectual capacity needed to recognize their own incompetence.

“When you are dead, you don’t know you are dead – the pain  is felt only by others.

The same applies when you are stupid.”

The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to vastly overestimate their own capabilities.

More intelligent people, by contrast, don’t tend to exude false confidence.

They know what they don’t know.

Self-appraisal is a useful metacognitive skill, but one that requires intelligence;  if you don’t have much of it, you don’t consider yourself flawed or ignorant, because technically you don’t have the ability to do so.

Donald Trump is the classical example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

Donald does’t know what he doesn’t know.

MAGA-Americans fell for his display of misplaced confidence and unwavering bluster –  “I know more about ……than all the……experts !!”

Sadly, somebody like Davey Johnston would never get elected as Prime Minister.

Davey is from the Sault; grew up behind our house on Woodward Avenue;  went to Sault Collegiate where he was quarterback for the Wildcat football team and played midget hockey with future NHL stars Phil and Tony Esposito and Lou Nanne.

He went to Harvard University where he captained the varsity ice hockey team, was twice selected to the All-America team and met and befriended Erich Segal, the two becoming jogging partners.   Segal wrote the best-selling novel Love Story, basing a character in the book—Davey, a captain of the hockey team—on Johnston.

In the book, Davey wound up as the captain of the Harvard hockey team who slams the protagonist, Oliver Barrett IV, into the boards during a practice for calling him a “f***ing Canuck.”

He then attended Cambridge University, obtaining a Bachelor of Laws with honours in 1965, and another with first class honours from Queen’s University in 1966.

After 1966, he worked for two years as an assistant professor at the Queen’s University Faculty of Law and then joined the University of Toronto’s law faculty, where he taught until 1974, eventually being promoted to the rank of full professor.

Johnston was then appointed as dean of the University of Western Ontario Law School, serving between 1974 and 1979, at which time he was elevated to become the fourteenth Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University.

Johnston moderated several televised leaders’ debates, the first between Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, and Ed Broadbent, prior to the 1979 federal election, and five years later before the election of 1984, in a debate featuring Brian Mulroney, John Turner, and Broadbent.

Many investigations commissioned by both federal and provincial governments have been chaired by Johnston, such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy in the late 1980s,  and the National Task Force on High Speed Broadband Access.

Johnston further served on various corporate boards of directors, including those of Fairfax Financial Holdings, CGI Group, Dominion Textiles, Southam Incorporated, SPAR Aerospace, Seagram’s, and Canada Trust, among others.

He is the only non-American citizen to chair the Harvard University Board of Overseers.

For his corporate, government, charitable, and academic work, Johnston was in 1988 appointed to the Order of Canada.

He expressed explicit support for Canadian federalism, having written a book opposing Quebec separatism.

Johnston stepped down in 1994 as principal of McGill to remain at the university only as a law professor until he was in 1999 installed as the fifth President of the University of Waterloo.

On July 8, 2010, the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada announced that Queen Elizabeth II had approved Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recommendation of the appointment of Davey Johnston as Governor General of Canada.

At the time he was invested by the Queen, Johnston announced to the media that there would be a theme to his installation ceremony:

A call to service.

He elaborated: “This theme of service echoes that of Her Majesty the Queen’s 2010 visit ‘Honouring the Canadian Record of Service—Past, Present and Future,’ and illustrates how the governor general exemplifies the Canadian value of service to community and country.”

Davey Johnston is way too intelligent and too capable to ever be elected to a political leadership position.

La crème de la crème just doesn’t rise to the top in the game of politics, especially in Canada.