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Richard Johnston was born August 8, 1946 in Pembroke, Ontario. He was raised near Peterborough, Ontario and educated at Trent University, where he worked as an administrator and counsellor after earning his Bachelor of Arts in History and English. He later became a community worker and administrator, specializing in the problems of the elderly. He also worked as an organizer for former NDP leader Stephen Lewis, and ran for the party leadership in 1982, finishing second to Bob Rae. He served as chair of the NDP caucus, and chair of the Legislature's Social Development Committee. He also participated in select committees on the constitution, health care and education. He represented Scarborough West from 1979 to 1990, serving his last three years as the New Democratic Party's critic on education; colleges, universities and skills development; and women's issues. He was also the party's spokesperson for the disabled, and was responsible for issues affecting Metro Toronto. During his six years as Community and Social Services critic, Richard fought both inside and outside the legislature on behalf of the poor. In 1982, he publicly highlighted the plight of the poor by going on a one-month "welfare diet," living on the report called "The Other Ontario", which exposed the extent of the province's hidden poverty. In early 1987 he and his colleagues presented their report to an independent social assistance review committee. The report, called "Toward a New Ontario", recommended an overhaul of the existing social assistance system and a series of other policy changes to bring a new independence to Ontario's disadvantaged. He was a strong advocate of disarmament and in 1986 was able to move the Ontario legislature to declare Ontario nuclear-weapons-free. Also in 1986, Richard travelled to Nicaragua where he helped build a school and medical facility. From 1991 to 1995 Richard was chair of the Ontario Council of Regents. In 1996 he became a member of Trent University's Board of Directors and in 1998 became President of Centennial College in Scarborough, Ontario.