Rita Johnston

First woman in Canada to serve as Premier (1991)

Rita Johnston

Rita Johnston was born in Melville, Saskatchewan. She later moved to Surrey, British Columbia where she and her husband operated a mobile home park for many years. Johnson was active in the Surrey Chamber of Commerce and, in 1969, was elected to Surrey City Council. She later served two additional two-year terms at the municipal level in 1978 and 1982.

Johnston ran successfully as the Social Credit Party candidate for the riding of Surrey in the provincial general election of 1983 and was re-elected to represent Surrey-Newton in 1986. She served in a variety of parliamentary secretary roles and was later appointed to several cabinet portfolios including municipal affairs, recreation and culture and transportation and highways.

Following the resignation of Premier Bill Vander Zalm in 1991, Johnston was selected by her caucus to serve as interim leader of the governing Social Credit Party, thereby becoming the Premier of British Columbia. On taking office, she committed to giving social issues a higher priority with “more emphasis placed on violence against women, violence against children and seniors.”

While her government was ultimately defeated in the provincial general election later that year, through her tenure as party leader, Johnston had entered the annals of history as the first woman in Canada to serve as Premier.