Courtney Howard: Canada’s Greens must be seen as ‘party of planetary health’

By Scott Costen

CLIMATE change is not an abstract concept to Dr. Courtney Howard.

“This is one of the most rapidly warming places in the world,” the emergency room physician told Redaction Politics from her home in Yellowknife. “We are a canary in the coal mine.”

Howard is one of eight candidates looking to succeed Elizabeth May as leader of the Green Party of Canada (GPC) next month and the only one who lives in the country’s Far North.

“I live on an actual permafrost hill,” she said.

Rising temperatures recently forced Howard and her family to install a retaining wall behind their house. “We’re deep into adaptation here,” she said.

The first-time political candidate said she entered the Green leadership race partly because of the “real risk of climate change getting sidelined by pandemic-related conversation.”

Her platform, developed in consultation with a “non-partisan circle of advisers,” focuses largely on environmental and human health.

Although reluctant to place herself on the political spectrum, Howard said her positions are consistent with the GPC’s 2019 campaign slogan, “Not Left. Not Right. Forward Together.”

“People have asked me if my platform is left or right-wing,” she said. “And I’ve been saying, look, I think that what we can agree on as being the most important [issue], especially in the midst of a pandemic, is current and future well-being.”

Howard wants the GPC to be recognized as “the party of planetary health” and to “become the party that advocates for what works in terms of making sure that we all have enough to eat, we all have a roof over our heads, and we can provide a good life for our kids moving forward. ”

That means adopting a “well-being dashboard” that measures the health and social outcomes of government programs.

The dashboard, inspired by New Zealand’s Living Standards Framework, would be “the north star that helps us decide whether we spend money on this, or we spend money on that,” she said.

Howard’s foreign affairs objectives include increasing funding to the World Health Organization, signing the United Nations Treaty on the Prevention of Nuclear Weapons, and defending human rights around the world.

As GPC leader, she would advocate a “do no harm” approach to trade and oppose exporting Canadian-made weapons, especially to countries with questionable records on human rights.

“I come from a place where I’ve done a lot of work with Doctors Without Borders, first as a humanitarian working with them, then after that, working with them on climate-related issues,” she said. “Doing that made me realize just how urgent climate is, in terms of preventing malnutrition, conflict (and) refugee flows.”

While a new candidate herself, Howard has been politically active for years, strategically supporting Green, NDP and Liberal standard bearers across the country.

“Over the course of [Stephen] Harper’s minority government, I volunteered for multiple different campaigns in multiple parts of Canada just based opportunistically on who I thought was most likely to beat Harper,” she said.

Howard has also volunteered on municipal and territorial election campaigns and has held prominent positions within the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

“I have essentially held climate in my foreground at all stages and done my best to influence the process to ensure a healthy response to climate change,” she said. “I think, more than almost any other doctor my age in Canada, I’ve passed a tremendous number of motions around climate change and health.”

A prolific public speaker who makes frequent media appearances, Howard believes her communications experience separates her from the other GPC leadership hopefuls.

“I think it’s key,” she said. “I think that’s one of the major skills I bring to the table.”

With a minority government in Ottawa and a throne speech and confidence vote coming in a few weeks, Howard said she’s prepared for a possible fall election.

“Part of my work as an emergency doctor is that you don’t get to choose the timeline, ever,” she said. “You need to be ready for whatever comes through the door.”

Featured Image: Pat Kane (credit)

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