Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country


In this timely book, the Right Honourable David Johnston, Canada’s twenty-eighth governor general, addresses one of the most important challenges of our day, – how to maintain trust in ourselves and our institutions.

We live in a time when public confidence in individuals and institutions is under siege. Study after study reveals that Canadians trust their leaders, their institutions, and even one another less than they used to. And Canad is not alone. Trust in most democracies is decreasing. Yet without trust our democracies cannot function effectively.

We sometimes feel that our individual actions cannot make a meaningful and lasting difference in the complex world we inhabit. This book puts the lie to that feeling. It demonstrates that every one of us, high or humble, can work to increase trust in ourselves, our society, and our country.

The Right Honourable Beverley McLaughlin
Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada


Part 1: Make yourself worthy of trust.

Eight ways to think and act so that other people
view you as trustworthy

1. Never manipulate

Trusting relationships depend on full, true, and plain disclosure, and a commitment never to distort or deceive

2. To thine own self be true

Getting a firm fix on your values is the surest guide to trusting behaviour.

3. Listen first

Trust grows when you take time to understand the thoughhts and feelings of others before you act

4. Be consistent

Trust builds when you bring the same temperament and character to your public and your private behaviour

5. Do the right thing, not just the thing right

Adhering to the moral imperative ahead of the operational imperative builds and maintains trust.

6. Rise above the written rules

Laws grounded in fairness and informed by wisdom enable us to strive toward justice, the pursuit of which fosters hope, dispels despair, and elevates trust.

7. Find some faith

Service and belonging to a wider world is the passport to a life of greater fulfillment and trust.

8. Follow the Golden Rule

Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is a determinant and test of trust


Part 2: Build trust around you

Six ways to think and act that will engender trust
in your communities, businesses, and organizations

9. Show up, not off

Being present establishes rapport, breaks down hierarchy, and creates solidarity and trust around a shared cause.

10. Act in the first-person plural

Putting we before me is the fastest way to build trust

11. Be a barn-raiser

Neighbours who help each other with no expectation of immediate return build more trusting relationships.

12. Know there is more than one right way

Pluralism enables people to remain united, encourages them to work together, and engenders trust.

13. Tell everyone the plan

Successful teams are trusted to fully consider, improve, and execute ideas and proposals.

14. Depend on those around you

Top leaders trust in the knowledge and talents of others

Part 3: Create a trustworthy and trusted country

Six ways to think and act that will strengthen trust in your country’s
public institutions and international reputation.

15. Recognize a present peril

Dramatic changes in how people communicate and share information weaken their trust in institutions and in each other, – at least temporarily.

16. Invite others to dance

Trust grows when diversity becomes inclusion

17. Apologize

Expressing regret is a necessary first step on a long journey to restore trust

18. Honour our teachers

Applauding those who exhibit widely cherished values builds trust

19. Be a knowledge diplomat

Sharing knowledge across academic disciplines, cultural barriers, and political borders is the surest way to promote peace, spread prosperity, and build trust among all the people of the world.

20. Start now

Each of us can begin strengthening trust and, with our actions, make our country better

Start Now

As governor general of Canada for seven years, I led dozens of delegations of Canadians on fifty-six missions to thirty-five countries on every continent except Antarctica. During these official visits, I met kings and queens, popes and prices, presidents and prime ministers. We talked about many significant subjects: innovation, education, immigration, health care, technology, philanthropy, volunteerism, families, children, diversity, inclusion, and justice. I also spoke with many Canadians who were working and studying abroad, and I encouraged countless young citizens in the countries I visited to come to Canada to work and study. Above all, I tried to spread messages of hope, optimism, and collaboration on behalf of my country and then bring home and share with Canadians what I heard, saw, and learned from other places.

What I learned most from these visits is that no problem is solved, no challenge tackled, no opportunity seized without trust among nations, trust between people and the institutions that are meant to serve a and represent them, and above all, trust among people.

If we are to make Canada the smart and caring country we want it to be, and if we are to make a meaningful contribution in creating a smarter and more caring world. we as Canadians, – individually and together, – must make ourselves more worthy of trust in other people, businesses, organizations, and institutions.

My experiences and the lessons that flowed from them also got me thinking more critically than ever before about the state of trust in countries throughout the world and in Canada. What I found was both discouraging and encouraging.

Our mission as Canadians then must be to rebuild and continually strengthen trust in our country so we can overcome our most enduring problems, seize our every opportunity, reverse all our setbacks, and make ourselves worthy of trust in the eyes of the world

David Johnston
28th Governor General of Canada
Author, The Idea of Canada