April 4, 2019


 Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who is Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Ontario, has become a champion for sustainability and the UN SDGs.
Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who is Queen Elizabeth II's representative in Ontario, has become a champion for sustainability and the UN SDGs.
“This is a real treat,” said the Honorable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the lieutenant governor of Ontario, in greeting a collection of students in a sunny 15th-floor room in the International Affairs Building.


The bright weather matched Dowdeswell’s disposition, and orange blazer, as she spoke on March 28 about her work in Canada’s most populous province. As lieutenant governor, Dowdeswell carries out many constitutional and ceremonial duties for Queen Elizabeth II, who is Canada’s monarch as well as England’s. Dowdeswell also acts as a patron and ambassador for Ontario institutions.

In this capacity, Dowdeswell has become a champion for sustainability and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ontario is one of Canada’s most diverse provinces, but the concept of sustainability has not always been front and center, so Dowdeswell has worked to relate the concept of sustainability to the complex needs of the population.

“People are worried their children will not have dignified work in the future,” she said, noting that citizens do not always appreciate how SDGs can address this concern and others like it.

Because of this, much of Dowdeswell’s effort has centered on developing the narrative and understanding that establishes how adherence and attention to the United Nations 2030 goals can provide for that.

Indeed, she had come to New York to present at the UN a collection of art pieces and articles that highlight these objectives.

“I am a strong believer in art as a way to influence and motivate people,” she said.

The art piece joined together a collection of 17 inspirational essays from esteemed world leaders, and, in many ways, exemplifies the varied projects Dowdeswell has used to develop a greater awareness around Ontario’s work to be more sustainable.

In a sense, this diversity reflected Dowdeswell’s own background. She began her career as a teacher and university lecturer before attaining a series of increasingly senior positions in public service, including as deputy minister of culture and youth in Saskatchewan and as head of Canada’s Atmospheric Environmental Service. From 1992 to 1998 she led the the UN Environment Program in Nairobi, Kenya, as under secretary general. Additionally she served as a professor at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health at the University of Toronto, the founding president and CEO of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization, and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies before being appointed as lieutenant governor in 2010.

Dowdeswell brings much of her experience connecting with people and institutions to her current advocacy work.

“It’s important to understand that someone is always thinking about the human dimension,” she said.

To that effect, Dowdeswell has been intentional in reaching out to civil governments who are often forgotten yet closest to people’s struggles. As an addendum to this, she has often found herself the chief storyteller of Ontario, conveying the enlightening and motivating stories of her fellow Canadians.

In concluding the meeting, the lieutenant governor stressed the need to think about people and reminded all those in attendance to remember the importance of stories when advocating for policy.

— Alexandra Feldhausen MIA ’19