Yellowknife ER physician enters Green Party leadership race

Dr. Courtney Howard aims to fill the shoes of former party leader Elizabeth May at an "incredibly important moment in human history."

Dr. Courtney Howard aims to fill shoes of former party leader Elizabeth May

Dr. Courtney Howard of Yellowknife announced her bid to lead the Green Party of Canada on Thursday. (The Canadian Medical Association)

Yellowknife emergency room physician Dr. Courtney Howard has entered the race for leader of the Green Party of Canada.

Howard announced her bid Thursday morning to fill the shoes of former leader Elizabeth May, who stepped down in November of 2019, shortly after the federal election.

"This is an incredibly important moment in human history," said Howard, while giving her reasons for putting her name forward. "Essentially, it's really important that we solve the coronavirus and its economic fallout, and climate change, at the same time." 

The coronavirus laid bare nations' vulnerabilities in the face of a global crisis, said Howard.

"Climate change is the factor most likely to lead to further global crises," she said. "This is really not something that we want to repeat itself, so let's make sure that we make decisions now, with our joint funds, that prevent this type of crisis in the future."

Climate change as a health issue

Howard, who's also president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, said explaining the links between human health and planetary health will be key to spurring people to action. 

As "one of the most well-known messengers on this topic in Canada and even internationally," she said she's best positioned to do that explaining from the bully pulpit afforded to the Green Party leader.

Raised in Vancouver, Howard said it was in the Northwest Territories, around 2009, when she began learning about climate change as a health issue. 

"[the North] is one of the places where the elders will tell you that the permafrost is melting, and we're having landslides, and the animals are moving," she said. In the North, nourishment and mental health are explicitly connected to the land, Howard said, "so I think that for me, the North is integral to my view of planetary health."

Redefine the party

Howard said she wants to change the way people think about climate change. No more posters of sad polar bears on ice floes — those aren't going to change people's behaviour. 

"I have a tough time in the emergency department ... getting people to change behaviour on behalf of their own well-being, whether that's walking or stopping smoking," she said. "So when we were asking people to change their behaviour on behalf of the polar bears, it just wasn't going to work."

Instead, she wants to focus on health impacts. 

When we were asking people to change their behaviour on behalf of the polar bears, it just wasn't going to work.- Dr. Courtney Howard, Green Party leadership candidate

It's time, said Howard, to redefine the Green Party as the party of "a healthy planet for healthy people." 

But party leaders need to do more than articulate our problems — they must also propose solutions. Howard offered one on Thursday: "Something along the lines of a guaranteed annual income."

"We have not only climate change to cope with, and changing natural resource situations, but we also have artificial intelligence and other technological disruptions that are going to disrupt our job market," she said.

"We need to really create a social safety net that is amped up from what we have now to help us buffer the inevitable shifts that are going to happen over the next decade."

As of Wednesday evening, eight others had announced their candidacy for the Green Party leadership. Online voting opens on Sept. 26.

Written by Sidney Cohen based on an interview with Loren McGinnis