OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will name David Johnston as governor general designate, QMI Agency has learned, choosing a lifelong academic widely admired for his smarts, his ability to build consensus and - an apparent must for Harper - his ability to play hockey.
Johnston, 69, is a fluently bilingual Ontario native known as "Grandpa Book" to his grandchildren because they think he reads so much.
And while one of his five daughters works on the staff of Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, Johnston himself has avoided being tagged with any partisan political label during his long career as a law professor. In fact, both Liberal and Conservative governments stretching back to the Mulroney era have asked him to take on special public policy tasks.
Political junkies will remember him as the moderator of the televised leaders' debates during the general election campaigns of 1979 - the one Joe Clark won - and again in 1984, Brian Mulroney's first win.
He is also the model for one of the characters in the bestselling novel Love Story. Love Story author Erich Segal and Johnston became friends and running partners while the two were undergrads in the 1960s at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
While at Harvard, Johnston was captain of the varsity hockey team and eventually made it into the school's Sports Hall of Fame.
Harper, too, is a hockey nut and seems to work Canada's national game into his political life as often as possible. Most recently, he presented Queen Elizabeth II with a hockey jersey this week and pronounced her Canada's "Most Valuable Player."
But though Harper likely appreciates Johnston's passion for hockey, he is believed to have an even greater appreciation for the wise ways he's handled some of the occasionally tricky public service challenges he's been given over the years.
In 2007, for example, Harper had Johnston draw up the terms of reference for what would become the Oliphant Commission's inquiry into activities involving former prime minister Brian Mulroney and German businessman Karlheinz Schreiber.
Johnston was criticized for excluding the Airbus affair from Oliphant's scope - an exclusion likely beneficial politically to Harper - but Johnston's friends and colleagues have told reporters they believe Johnston would not have factored in political optics when he set those terms.
Johnston, who is the president of the University of Waterloo, had been widely rumoured to be on Harper's shortlist to replace Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean.
Earlier this summer, Jean announced she plans to be a special envoy to Haiti for the United Nations when she leaves office later this year.
Harper is expected to formally announce Johnston's appointment within days.
His formal installation as governor general is expected to be in the fall.
Johnston was born in Sudbury, Ont. His father owned a hardware store there.
Johnston is married to Dr. Sharon Johnston, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who is described as an avid horse riding enthusiast. She runs a horse training centre from the couple's home in Ontario's Mennonite country near Waterloo.