He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1979 with a B.A. in English. After university, he pursued a career as a playwright, his most notable play being Mayonnaise, which debuted in December 1980 at the Phoenix Theatre in Toronto. The play went on to national production and was adapted to a TV broadcast in 1983. In the mid-1980s, Ibbitson switched over to writing young adult fiction, including the science fiction novel Starcrosser (1990). He also wrote two full-length novels, 1812: Jeremy's War and The Night Hazel Came to Town. The Landing followed in 2008 - a winner of the 2008 Governor General's Award for English-language children's literature. Apart from the latter Ibbitson has been nominated for several awards for other works, including a Governor General's Award nomination for 1812. Hazel received a nomination for the Trillium Book Award and the City of Toronto Book Award. His journalism has also been nominated for a National Newspaper Award.
Ibbitson entered the University of Western Ontario in 1987, graduating with an M.A. in journalism one year later, and joined the Ottawa Citizen, where he worked as a city reporter and columnist. He covered Ontario politics from 1995 to 2001, working for the Ottawa Citizen, Southam News, the National Post and The Globe and Mail. In August 2001, Ibbitson accepted the post as Washington bureau chief at The Globe and Mail, returning to Canada one year later to take up the post of political affairs columnist. He moved back to Washington as a columnist in May 2007, returning to Ottawa as bureau chief in September 2009. In December 2010 he became the paper's chief political writer. In that role, he has also frequently appeared on Canadian television news programs as a pundit and political analyst.
In January 2014 Ibbitson began a one-year leave of absence from the Globe, to serve as a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and to work on a biography of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which was published in August 2015.
He has written five books on Ontario and Canadian politics
- Promised Land: Inside the Mike Harris Revolution (1997)
- Loyal No More: Ontario's Struggle for a Separate Destiny
- The Polite Revolution: Perfecting the Canadian Dream (McClelland & Stewart, 2005)
- Open & Shut: Why America Has Barack Obama and Canada Has Stephen Harper (2009)
- The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future with Darrell Bricker (2013)
- Stephen Harper, a biography of Canada's 22nd Prime Minister (2015).
In The Big Shift (2013), Ibbitson and Bricker claimed that Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada would win the 2015 election and open up a new political era as a dominant party, led by the rise of the immigration debate, and the economic growth of Alberta, shifting the power from the Toronto and Montreal elites towards Western Canada and the suburban Ontario:
We believe that fortune favours the Harper government in the next election. But we don’t believe this is about the next election. We believe it is about the next decade, the next generation, and beyond. We believe that the Conservative Party will be to the twenty-first century what the Liberal party was to the twentieth: the perpetually dominant party, the natural governing party.
- "Being John Ibbitson". Ryerson Review of Journalism, Summer 2006.
- Doskoch, Bill (23 April 2004). "Election 2004". CTV. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
- Paul mac Leod, BOOK REVIEW: The Big Shift Explains Why Stephen Harper Will Keep Winning, Buzzfeed