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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.

Rita Margaret Johnston
29th Premier of British Columbia
In office
April 2, 1991 – November 5, 1991
MonarchElizabeth II
Lieutenant GovernorDavid Lam
Preceded byBill Vander Zalm
Succeeded byMike Harcourt
Leader of the
British Columbia Social Credit Party
In office
April 2, 1991 – March 7, 1992
Preceded byBill Vander Zalm
Succeeded byJack Weisgerber
Minister of Municipal Affairs of British Columbia
In office
August 14, 1986 – November 1, 1989
PremierBill Vander Zalm
Preceded byJack Heinrich
Succeeded byLyall Hanson
Minister of State, Kootenay of British Columbia
In office
October 22, 1987 – July 6, 1988
PremierBill Vander Zalm
Minister of Transportation and Highways of British Columbia
In office
November 1, 1989 – April 2, 1991
PremierBill Vander Zalm
Preceded byNeil Vant
Succeeded byArt Charbonneau
3rd Deputy Premier of British Columbia
In office
August 10, 1990 – April 2, 1991
PremierBill Vander Zalm
Preceded byGrace McCarthy
Succeeded byAnita Hagen
Member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly
for Surrey-Newton
Surrey (1983-1986)
In office
May 5, 1983 – October 17, 1991
Serving with William Earl Reid
Preceded byBill Vander Zalm
Ernest Hall
Succeeded byPenny Priddy
Personal details
Rita Margaret Leichert

(1935-04-22) April 22, 1935 (age 84)
Melville, Saskatchewan
Political partySocial Credit Party (1983-?)
BC Conservative (c. 2009-present)
George Johnston (m. 1951)

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 trailer park in the city of Surrey, British Columbia.

Political careerEdit

She first entered politics as a city councillor for Surrey City Council. 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 frontrunner 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 because of the leadership contest, and it 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 l-moribund BC Liberals. The Socreds lost more than half of 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, and all but seven members of her cabinet were defeated. Harcourt later said that he preferred facing Johnston rather than McCarthy, who he felt would have been a tougher opponent.

Johnston resigned as leader of the Social Credit Party on January 11, 1992 and was replaced by McCarthy. After 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.