Howard was born and raised in Brandon where she graduated from Brandon University; she was the federal New Democratic Party candidate in Brandon—Souris in the 1997 election, but lost to Rick Borotsik. She moved to Winnipeg in 1998.
Prior to her election to the Legislative Assembly, Howard was employed as policy advisor to Premier Gary Doer on health care issues and as executive director of the Women’s Health Clinic. She has also served on the boards of the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (Manitoba), the Rainbow Resource Centre and the University of Winnipeg’s Board of Regents. She was named a Woman of Distinction in 1999 by the Brandon YWCA. She has also received a Community Builder Award from the Lambda Business and Professional Club of Winnipeg, an organization of gay and lesbian businesses and professionals.
Howard was elected MLA for Fort Rouge in 2007. She served as vice-chair of the Public Accounts Committee. In November 2009, she was appointed the Minister of Labour and Immigration, Minister responsible for Persons with Disabilities and the Status of Women, and Minister charged with the administration of The Workers Compensation Act.
Howard resigned her cabinet position on November 3, 2014 along with Theresa Oswald, Erin Selby, Stan Struthers, and Andrew Swan due to concerns about Premier Selinger's leadership. She remained an NDP MLA after resignation.