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Green Party Leadership Race Contender: Courtney Howard

We sent each of the candidates this 23-question questionnaire.
Rebecca Zisser/Handout

1. Full name:
Courtney Gail Howard

2. Date of birth:
Nov. 7, 1978

3. Marital status? Children?
Married for 12 years to pediatrician Dr. Darcy Scott. Mother to Elodie (8 years old) and Viviana (7 years old).

4.Would you describe yourself as religious? If so, what religion/denomination do you subscribe to?

5. Why do you think you’re best placed to be the next Green Party leader?
In the next few years we have to manage three emergencies at the same time: COVID-19, its economic fallout, and climate change. We need to do this in a way that is efficient with regards to both financial and ecological resources, and that keeps people safe and healthy now, while setting ourselves on a long term path that will allow our kids to live a good life into the future. As an emergency room physician, I have spent 12 years leading ER teams through every situation that comes through the door. My approach is compassionate, evidence-based, and action-oriented. I believe that as a leader my No. 1 job is to be calm and centered — because, that way I have the clear mental space necessary to facilitate wise decision making, and the greatest ability to help my team members perform their best. At this moment of crisis, where change is constant and mental health stressors loom large, I believe this combination of EQ and IQ is key. Additionally, as a researcher, I have developed an eye for metrics, for making sure that we define goals that really matter and effective ways of tracking our progress with regards to them — this will be key to maximizing well being in a situation with little financial or ecological buffer. Doing policy work with The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, I’ve become adept at finding win-wins that improve health now, save healthcare dollars, create jobs, and set us up for a healthy future. Finally, as a national and international leader, with positions on the steering bodies of Canada’s (as president of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and board member of the Canadian Medical Association) and the world’s (Global Climate and Health Alliance, Planetary Health Alliance, and the World Health Organization’s Civil Society Working Group on Climate Change and Health) most central planetary health organizations, I have developed extensive experience in the organizational development, governance, and networking required for the Green Party to scale its successes and form the strong relationships with other partners that it needs in order to maximize its impact. As it happens, I also have a certificate in creative writing and a degree in the performing arts, and have been in demand as a public speaker over the past several years: I know I have the ability to communicate the vision of the Green Party in a way that is as inspiring as its policies.

6. What top two problems do you believe the party current faces? And how do you plan to try to overcome them?
The party has struggled to convey that it is about more than climate change. I propose reorienting its focus to planetary health, which was defined by the leading medical journal, The Lancet, in 2015 as “the health of human civilization and the state of the natural systems upon which it depends.” The coronavirus crisis has made incredibly clear that health and wellbeing are what really counts. The WHO says that climate change is in fact is the biggest health threat of the 21st century, because of its potential to worsen wildfires (asthma, evacuations), infectious disease (more pandemics), lead to heat emergencies (deaths, cardiovascular disease), as well as low crop yields, malnutrition, refugee crises and conflict and more. Research shows that communicating climate change in terms of health is the best way to make its impact clear to people and to motivate them to take action, which can improve health immediately through decreased air pollution, greener cities, and increased activity levels.The party is also at a stage where it needs to scale and standardize best practices in order to improve efficiency nationally and better support candidates and riding associations. This requires an attention to the internal organization of the party. We need to maintain the grassroots energy of the party while professionalizing elements of its policy, communications, and logistics arms.

“The party has struggled to convey that it is about more than climate change.”

7. Why do you think the party failed to win more seats in the last election?
A combination of the logistic challenges detailed in the previous question with a lack of focus in messaging. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the world’s best communications researchers and coaches and their clear advice is, “simple messages, repeated often, by trusted messengers.” Message discipline can be less interesting for the speaker than talking about a broader range of topics, but is utterly necessary for success in a crowded and unforgiving media environment.

8. What would be your policy priorities if you become the leader?

  • To keep people safe and healthy now: a Universal Basic Income.

  • To improve the health of our society through decreasing inequality, and to help to fund the above: a Tax on Extreme Wealth.

  • To clarify our goals and help align our efforts: A Wellbeing Dashboard paired with GDP and used in a wellbeing budget.

  • To fulfill our commitments, and in recognition that Indigenous Peoples are the original practitioners of Planetary Health: accelerate our implementation of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and align our laws with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

  • To allow people to reposition themselves in this rapidly-changing world: Tuition Debt Relief and Free Tuition moving forwards.

  • To ensure a healthy future for us all: a Climate Accountability Act, similar to the Climate Change Act in Britain that has helped them decrease carbon emissions by 43 per cent between 1990 and 2018. Key elements of this are legislated carbon budgets that decrease every five years and an independent scientific advisory body that continuously audits government policy to ensure the nation is on track to meet its targets.

9. What public policy issue do you feel is undercovered and deserving of more political and public attention?
Adaptation to the climate change that we cannot now avoid in Canada. As a nation we are warming at double the global rate. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s “Canada’s Changing Climate” report shows that under all plausible emissions scenarios, by the time a child born today is in their early 20s this country will be 2 degrees Celsius warmer than a baseline established between 1986 and 2005. We need to revamp our food supply to ensure it is local, tasty, and climate-resilient, ensure every building we invest in is both low-carbon and future-proofed against the floods and fires that are coming our way, and, in general, communicate this knowledge broadly so every Canadian can have realistic expectations of the decades to come in order give themselves the ability to position themselves and their families to succeed during this time of rapid change. This will also help to protect mental health through preparation and increased resilience: action feels better than anxiety.

10. What makes you happy?
Dancing with my daughters.

11. Tea or coffee? Beer or wine?
There is a time and a place for all of the above :)

12. Favourite thing to do?
Snuggle with my small humans while enjoying a sunset or a gorgeous mountain view..

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having helped to catalyze an international climate change and health movement from a little house in the subarctic.

14. What is an invaluable lesson you’ve learned during this leadership campaign or your time in politics?
Political parties are just another group of people who are trying to get along and get something done. The divide that seemed so big between “not politics” and “politics” before entering the race seems much less significant now. The world is in a bit of a state, to steer through this with the best ideas fueling our work, we need a diverse group of capable people around the table. For that, we need to make it clear that politicians are just some of us who have decided that helping to direct our joint resources is an important use of time and energy.

I talked to a lot of very smart people when I was deciding whether or not to run, and I haven’t had that many people try to talk me out of applying for a job that they thought was both important and something that I would be good at, since I was applying to work with Doctors Without Borders, when people knew I might be asked to work in a conflict zone. The more we encourage nasty political behaviour by giving it more airtime and media coverage than constructive behaviour, the more socially unsafe it will feel to people, the smaller will be the pool of people willing to participate, the more it will be about power as opposed to service, and the more we’ll end up with a disproportionate number of narcissists in charge. I want amazing people at the helm, so regardless of what happens in this race, moving forwards I’m going to focus on actively supporting politicians who are clearly working with the public good in mind with time, with money, with social capital, with intellectual expertise.

15. What is your most marked characteristic?
As per my husband, “Your ability to connect with people. You can figure people out pretty fast.” As per my best friend since preschool and medical school roommate, “you see a problem and you figure out what you can do to help fix it, and then you do that. You make it your job. You don’t sit around passively waiting for someone else to figure it out. And you are resourceful in how you do that.”

16. What is your greatest fear?
Climate-related systemic and economic collapse within my children’s lifetime. (Have I mentioned I’m fun to talk to at a cocktail party? :)

17. What is your greatest extravagance?
Fluevogs. (Wasn’t fast enough to get a pair of the Dr. Bonnie Henry shoes! Shakes head in regret :)

18. Who is a politician from another political party that you respect?
Former federal Liberal environment minister Catherine McKenna. I do not agree with every decision she has been associated with but, having first met her at COP21 and on multiple occasions since, it is undeniable that she has dedicated every ounce of her considerable brainpower and strength to moving the dial on climate change in this country. She has also responded to the misogyny directed towards her gracefully, with strength, and in a manner designed to protect and elevate all female leaders.

19. Which living person do you most admire?
Barack Obama.

20. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
In others? I am pretty much always thinking about world events/planetary health/policy/how humans react to things and it means I often lose track of time, directions, and … for instance, my children’s socks. The girls now consider unmatched socks to be a fashion choice, which I choose to regard as an element of resilience. (There are pros and cons to everything!) Luckily, my campaign manager Will Gagnon has an excellent sense of both direction and timing. #Team

In others: a lack of humility, because it tends to be associated with a lack of openness to learning from others, and therefore less good ideas and weaker solutions.

21. What is your greatest regret?
My active, nonsmoking, elegant, warm Mom, Dawn Howard, got Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 55, and died at 59. I was in my early 20s at the time. It exploded my world, and showed me that if you want to get something done, you must take your first step towards that goal now. I’ve been living full-out since the moment of her diagnosis. My only regret is that I haven’t been able to share my adventures with the person whose experience inspired me to step into the arena. It was my Mom’s birthday recently, I went for a paddle and watched sunlight play off Yellowknife’s ancient rock while eating late-summer raspberries, while thinking how much she would have loved that moment. She would have been 78.

22. On what occasions do you lie?
I have the world’s biggest conscience. I named her “Helga” when I was about 10. If I lie Helga doesn’t let me sleep. I like to sleep. So I don’t lie. #DontMessWithHelga

23. Which superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to simultaneously be able to experience my girls as their mischievous little selves forever, while also watching them unfurl into the funny, elegant, fierce, intelligent young women that they are becoming, and that the world needs them to be. Maybe that’s what dreams are for.

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