Green candidate Tara Howse gathered with supporters in a Rossland brew pub on election night to watch the results come in. Photo: John Boivin

Green candidate reflects on South Okanagan-West Kootenay campaign

Rosslander Tara Howse talks about the highs and lows of running for office

Like many Canadians, Tara Howse was appalled by the SNC Lavalin scandal that snared Justin Trudeau last February and prompted his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to resign from cabinet.

But unlike many Canadians, she decided to do something about it.

“It really bothered me,” she says. “I have a background in criminal justice. And the thought of parliament influencing the legal system really got to me, so I started making some inquiries.”

The Rossland News caught up with the first-time candidate in late October, soon after the federal election, to talk about the experience of running for office.

Going green

Howse says she knew who she wanted to run for. The Rossland-based contract consultant and student says the Greens offered the most direct route for changing the way government works.

“I went with them because of their strong transparency policies and procedures both within the party, but also pushing at parliament for more transparency in government process.

“Their principles attracted me the most.”

Howse says she considered herself somewhat politically engaged, but she wasn’t political per se.

“I never considered ‘politician’ as any type of career. It wasn’t my trajectory, it wasn’t my intention,” she says. “I ran for the athletic association in high school, but that’s about it.”

Between February and April, Howse was in contact with the party, being vetted and studying the rules and regulations.

But Howse also found running for office was a lot more than picking the font on your campaign signs.

“The Green Party has intro documents, FAQs for first-time political candidates that set out requirements, like finding a financial agent,” she says.

“Then there are Elections Canada documents that are in a much more complicated language. You have to learn about expenses and contributions, understanding what is acceptable, maximum donations amount, what levels you issue a tax receipt… [things] you have to be aware of as a candidate.”

She also found running for the Greens is much more of a DIY campaign.

“They warned me it was going to be a lot of work,” she says. “But you can’t really explain how much work it is. That’s both the beauty and difficulty of the Green Party. It is much more a grassroots organization that doesn’t have the big machinery behind it. So there’s no template ‘here’s-a-speech-that’s-been-written-you-will-insert-your-name-into’ kind of thing.”

After being nominated to run, Howse spent the weeks before the election was called reading up on rules and policy, practicing answering questions, and organizing volunteers and planning.

Campaigning didn’t come easy

The day came that Howse went out to meet the electorate. And she says, she promptly fell flat on her face.

“It was a disaster,” she recalls. “No, disaster’s a rough word. We were in Penticton around Canada Day, so my partner and I went to the events there. But we had no structure in place, didn’t know what to do, no handouts. We didn’t know what we were doing. We had a key volunteer who met us. And thank goodness for this person, she went around and introduced us.

“But it was me going out to shake people’s hands. And there was a lack of awareness or interest in who I was, or the Green Party, or even that there was an election on the way.”

There were other tough times. Like when she was insulted for her looks on her Facebook posts. While trying to cram the briefing notes on the party platform before the writ dropped was hard work, it was just before the first debate, in Silverton, when she began to doubt if she could do it.

“I was so nervous, I didn’t know how I would do,” she recalls. “I did have speaking engagements. I found I didn’t like that, giving a soliloquy.”

But Silverton proved a positive experience, and Howse says the next day, a debate in Penticton went even better.

“That’s just when everything clicked and came together for me. It was our second debate. The first was nerve racking, in Silverton. I had never done anything like that.

“But Penticton, it was a room of 500 people, a big ball room, and I killed it,” she says. “I felt really confident, ‘I can do this.’ I gave a strong performance. Not perfect of course. I was learning. But that was where I said ‘I can do this.’ Before, it was practice. This was the show. The finals. And I was enjoying the process.”

Howse persevered, and even learned that she liked going door-to-door and talking to people.

“I hesitated doing that, even though headquarters encouraged us, saying it’s the best way of doing it. But I felt it was very intrusive, it’s like a telemarketer calling you at dinnertime. And I didn’t know what to expect.

“But with this process sometimes you have to jump in and roll with it, and that’s what we did. We went to Warfield the first time — and had the most incredible, amazing experience.

“I am shocked at how positive and fantastic the response was at the door. And from that time, door-knocking became so easy it wasn’t a chore, it was something I looked forward to.”

Elbows-up politics

But politics — especially federal elections — can be tough, dirty affairs. And what happened on the national level can affect local efforts. Howse recalls the abortion debate raised by the NDP against the Greens, questioning their commitment to women’s rights.

“The issue stemmed from the NDP slinging mud, and skewing things,” she says. “They pushed that, handing out flyers on [Vancouver] Island perpetuating this false thing of women’s rights, and pushing that fear-based voting. I fought fear-based voting the whole time.

“That was an NDP national strategy and it happened on a local level.”

But Howse persevered. For 40 days (and nights) she and her husband travelled the West Kootenay, meeting people, taking part in debates, managing interview requests, posting to social media, going door-to-door. By election night, she was pretty well done-in.

Seeing other parties gain from mud-slinging was hard, she says.

“The fear-based voting is a gut punch. I’m doing this because I believe in democracy, and fear-based voting is a perversion of democracy. So when I see people voting that way, it hurts me in my soul. That’s not how we are supposed to be voting. So seeing those results on election night, it was disappointing … or more than that, it’s sad that people feel they have to vote that way.

“It’s all about maintaining power instead of providing a voice for the people.”

Ultimately, the numbers didn’t go her way. She came in fourth, behind the Liberals, with 10.8 per cent votes compared to the NDP winner Richard Cannings’ 37.5 per cent. She increased the Green’s showing in the riding, but it was still far from being a contender.

Ready to go again

Despite the competition, the stress, the emotions released by campaigns, Howse says she came out of the experience stronger.

“It’s given me a new confidence,” she says. “It’s given me a strength and confidence I didn’t know I had … It’s created a sense of purpose for me.”

And whatever their political differences, she has high praise for her fellow candidates.

“We all went through this intense time together. And even though we have different leanings, you have to respect anybody who stood up to do this,” she says. She points out she actually bonded a bit with Sean Taylor, the candidate for the right-wing People’s Party. “We were the two working dudes,” she says.

“We all went through this together, and you don’t enter this with bad intentions. We all are doing this because we believe in this vision, and we want to improve it. We have different ways of wanting to do that, and you have to respect everyone who stood up there.”

Life’s slowly returning to normal for Howse. When the Rossland News spoke to her, she said she had actually had the opportunity to rest a little bit, read a book, take some bike rides and even pick up the banjo, an instrument she’s trying to learn.

But would she run again? She already plans to.

“Assuming the party wants me, I would love to do it again. Hopefully it’s not immediately. I hope I can finish my masters before the next writ.”

That may come sooner than later. Minority parliaments in Canada tend to last about two years.

Chances are, Howse may find her name on the ballot again before too long.

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“It’s given me a strength and confidence I didn’t know I had… It’s created a sense of purpose for me,” says Tara Howse of the experience of running for office.

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