Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final in a series of Sarnia-Lambton federal election candidates who spoke at get-to-know-you meetings with the Sarnia-Lambton Golden K Kiwanis Club.
It was never Peter Smith’s plan to be a politician, but the state of world affairs has prompted the Green Party candidate to run federally a second time.
“I was driven to do this because some of the things you learn about are just so unfair,” said Smith, 68. “Women that are told they have to wear a veil ... or people say something against their government and get thrown in prison for it.
“When you look around you, there’s so many things that need fixing, there’s so many things that you think, ‘Boy, that’s stupid what we’re doing.’ If only we could use a bit more thought we could solve it.”
Smith has both an accomplished resume in Sarnia’s Chemical Valley and a 20-year membership in the federal Green Party.
Born in to a working-class family in south London, England, he was inspired to study engineering after watching the first man walk on the moon.
“I knew I was going to be an engineer because I knew everything there was to know about the Saturn Five rocket,” he said.
As the Western world grappled with an energy crisis in the early ‘70s, Smith was drawn toward nuclear energy and earned a degree in the field from the University of London.
“I love telling kids today, I didn’t even have a calculator,” he said with a laugh.
He worked his way across the United Kingdom designing nuclear power plants, before taking a job in Atikokan, Ont. in the 1980s, designing a coal-fired plant in the small community two hours west of Thunder Bay.
Smith and wife Trina moved to Sarnia to work at PolySar in 1987. They have two adult children and three grandchildren.
“I didn’t intend to stay,” he admits, “but it’s now been over 30 years and I’m still here.”
Eventually, he joined TransAlta and worked his way up to become the director of commercial operations for Eastern Canada, overseeing four gas-fired power plants, five wind farms and five hydroelectric plants.
Negotiating with government and clients was a big part of the job, he said, earning him a reputation as a talented negotiator.
“That’s one of the strengths that I’ve got is being able to take complex issues… and sort of work them through to a workable solution.”
Smith has run Sarnia’s chapter of Amnesty International for 30 years, has been an avid organizer of the Lambton County Science Fair for nearly a decade, and is an active member of Adopt a Scientist, a program that places retired scientists and engineers in school classrooms at 47 different Lambton-Kent schools.
In 2015, Smith won 2.8% of the vote and finished fourth in Sarnia-Lambton’s five-way election race. This time around the party is running on a three-point platform of creating good jobs, ensuring equal access to services, and taking climate change and the environment seriously.
He’s also passionate about children’s mental health, and was a board member at St. Clair Child and Youth for 12 years. There, he chaired an advocacy committee and was able to secure a 30% increase in provincial funding for local programs, he said.
“It’s really a neglected area, the entire mental health field.”