A proud Icelandic-Canadian from Gimli, she is the eldest daughter of Doris Blondal Johnson and the Honourable Dr. George Johnson, the province's 20th lieutenant governor.
Ms. Johnson first pursued political science at the University of Manitoba and was a leader in the student union. After completing her bachelor of arts degree in 1968, she moved to Ottawa, where she was a youth policy advisor to the Honourable Robert Stanfield, then Leader of the Progressive Conservative (PC) Party of Canada. Later, she became policy advisor to the president of the PC Party of Canada.
Returning to Manitoba in 1979, Ms. Johnson became an advisor to Premier Sterling Lyon and created the first Women's Progressive Conservative Caucus in Winnipeg. She also worked with the University of Manitoba's continuing education division, where she designed a program enabling women to become better-equipped to return to the workforce.
In 1983 she served as Manitoba co-chair of Brian Mulroney's successful campaign for the leadership of the national PC Party, and soon after became the national director of the PC Party of Canada - the first woman to hold this position.
Ms. Johnson also founded a public policy and communications consulting company that did extensive work in the areas of women's health and equality, Indigenous affairs and cultural policy.
She was appointed to the Senate of Canada in 1990, and upon retiring in 2016 was the longest-serving Conservative member. She served as chair or vice-chair of the committees on Human Rights, Aboriginal Peoples, Transport and Communications, and Fisheries and Oceans. She was also elected three times to lead the U.S.-Canada Parliamentary Group, and served on the steering committee for the Senate Foreign Affairs and Environment committees.
Volunteerism has been a fundamental part of Ms. Johnson's life, through her extensive involvement with the Special Olympics and arts organizations in Winnipeg. She was the founding honorary president of Nature Canada for Women, and has been a long-time advocate and fundraiser for women's health research and services.
Ms. Johnson is one of the few Canadians to be awarded the prestigious Order of the Falcon by the Government of Iceland in recognition of her work on Canada-Iceland relations. She is currently chair of the Valuing Icelandic Presence board in the University of Manitoba's department of Icelandic studies. Ms. Johnson also founded the Gimli Film Festival, now one of the largest festivals of its kind in Canada.
The University of Manitoba is proud to award a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to the Honourable Janis Guðrún Johnson, a visionary leader in public policy and community service.
The Honourable Janis Guðrún Johnson