Campbell River resident Peter Schwarzhoff is making a second run for federal office.
He was nominated by the North Island-Powell River Liberals on May 11. A former meteorologist, air quality researcher and science manager for Environment Canada, he says that climate change is a major area of concern.
In an interview with the Mirror, he recalled organizing a workshop in Kelowna in the early 1990s about the projected effects of climate change, including increased wildfire danger and longer dry periods in summers.
“Here we are 25 years later, and we were right,” he said, but “everything happened quicker than expected.”
Later, when he was working as head of air quality research in Vancouver, Environment Canada staff was updating its guidelines for engineers, including recommended sizes of culverts and storm drains.
Those guidelines, based on 30-year normals, were all outdated due to the effects of climate change, he said.
“We were scrambling to try to figure out, ‘Well, what’s the new information?’”
He reached the position of acting manager of science before retiring nine years ago, amid what he described as policies that gagged climate scientists under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The experience spurred him to get into politics, he said.
Asked to respond to criticisms that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government isn’t curbing greenhouse gas emissions fast enough, he said the government would take further action.
“The feds will do all we can,” Schwarzhoff said. “We will step up and do more.”
He described the government’s climate policy as multifaceted, including regulations making fuel and motor vehicles cleaner and homes and industry more efficient.
He also said the government’s carbon tax, which was recently imposed on Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, the four provinces that didn’t already have one in place, is an economically efficient way to reduce emissions.
“It was… recommended to our party by Nobel Prize-winning economists,” he said. “They told us it would be the most effective and most efficient thing to do, and also we’d seen the success of the plan in British Columbia.”
Responding to critics who oppose the tax – it has become a political football for Conservative politicians – he said, “We’re not trying to gouge the taxpayer, that’s not the point.”
Schwarzhoff stressed that he’s interested in balancing protection of the environment with economic concerns, citing job growth under Trudeau, and social issues, notably the importance of reconciliation with First Nations.
On the Liberal policy of expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline, he said meaningful consultation with First Nations is taking place and that Alberta agreed to phase out coal-burning facilities as part of a deal that included the pipeline’s expansion. He defended the Trans Mountain policy, describing it as a pragmatic option amid a gradual transition to renewable energy.
“We know that we’re building the pipeline in an industry that’s closing down, but… over its lifetime it’s still going to be needed,” he said.
Schwarzhoff’s family moved to Campbell River from the central coast town of Ocean Falls when he was a young child, and he graduated from Carihi Secondary.
During his career with Environment Canada, he lived in various parts of the country and during the early 1990s served in West Germany as a weather forecaster at CFB Baden-Soellingen, a Canadian airbase.
Schwarzhoff is known as the host of the local Philosophers’ Café. He also volunteers as a director for the Campbell River and District Association for Community Living and as an English language teacher with the Immigrant Welcome Centre.
He placed third in the 2015 election, garnering roughly 25 per cent of votes, just behind the Conservative Party’s candidate at the time, Laura Smith, who came in second with 26 per cent, while New Democrat Rachel Blaney won with 40 per cent of votes. The Green Party came in fourth with 8.2 per cent.
Despite those results, Schwarzhoff sees this year’s campaign as a two-way race between the Tories and the Liberals.
“We’re hoping that people will choose red over blue,” he said.
All major political parties have now announced their candidates for the North Island-Powell River riding, setting the stage for this year’s federal election.
Blaney is running for re-election with the NDP against Port McNeill’s Shelley Downey, who was acclaimed as the Conservative Party’s candidate in December, while Comox Valley’s Mark de Bruijn is representing the Green Party.
Also on the ballot is Campbell River resident Peter Marcin for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), an offshoot of the Conservative Party formed last year by Harper-era cabinet minister Maxime Bernier after he narrowly lost the race for party leadership to Andrew Sheer. Recent polls indicate that support for the PPC is in the low single digits.