Rick was born and raised in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. He arrived in Burnaby in 1988 to attend SFU where he completed his B.Sc. in Biological Sciences with a minor in Economics. Subsequently, he completed his B.Ed. He currently teaches Chemistry and English at the Pearson Adult Learning Centre in New Westminster. McGowan has been with the New Westminster School District since 2000.
In 2011, McGowan organized the Burnaby Municipal Greens as an alternative to the NDP-affiliated Burnaby Citizens' Association. Despite not being elected in 2011, he has assumed a role as an unofficial opposition, bringing attention to the decision-making processes at City Hall.
More recently, McGowan spearheaded the organization of the Metrotown Residents' Association with a focus on giving a political voice to the people who live in Burnaby's Regional City Centre. Currently, the MRA is in a struggle with City Hall, fighting to protect the homes of thousands of renters that are threatened with displacement. McGowan wants to make sure affordable housing is a priority election issue. Additionally, as a parent and teacher, he is an advocate for proper funding of the public education system.