Resource champion Richard Neufeld: Thank you for your service

As British Columbia's Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources from 2001 to 2009, Senator Richard Neufeld was on the job as the province's north west oil & gas assets were being brought to maturity. As a senator for the past decade, he helped to gather and share knowledge on an extraordinary number of resource issues. Now he's retiring from the Senate.

neufeld-senate.pngOn June 11 2019, senators paused to pay tribute to an energy leader from western Canada: Fort St. John's Richard Neufeld. For a number of years he chaired the Senate's energy, natural resources and environment committee. His work included giving careful consideration to many pieces of legislation and conducting studies on such topics as underground infrastructure and the transition to a low-carbon economy. One of his studies was Powering Canada’s Territories, which looked at nonrenewable and renewable energy and at emerging technologies in Canada’s three northern territories.

Full remarks of what was said in the Senate can be seen here. The following is what the senator said in reply to his colleagues' encomiums:

Thank you very much, colleagues. I think my notes were circulated a little bit because I recognized some of the things that were said in my speech. I will ask for your indulgence so that I can continue through my whole speech because it’s for my family. Some day they may want to look at what that crazy old guy was doing and be able to read it.

I rise to say an early farewell. Everyone knows that an election will take place some time in October. As my seventy-fifth birthday falls on November 6, it is doubtful that the chamber will be called before then, so I have decided that before the session ends in a few short weeks, I will say a final goodbye now.

Before I speak about my journey in life and politics, it is appropriate to begin with a few thank yous. First, thank you to the leaders and other senators for their very kind words. I’m deeply touched by your remarks and generous compliments. I would also like to tell you how much I enjoyed my time here and the many friends I have made over the years. I will cherish these friendships and memories for the rest of my life.

I want to thank all the people who make the Senate run like a well-oiled machine. You all know how much I appreciate a well-oiled machine. Thank you to everyone in the administration, from the security officers to the stenographers, the interpreters, the pages, committee clerks, the table officers and everyone else in between, including Lynn Gordon, Maxime Fortin, Sam Banks, Marc LeBlanc and Jesse Good, for their commitment and support when I was Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

Of course, I want to thank the people of British Columbia, in particular the residents of northeastern B.C., who I have had the honour and privilege to represent at all three levels of government for almost 40 years.

I would like to personally thank the people who work with me in my office here in Ottawa: Patty Tancorre, who has been with me from day one, and that’s 10 full years; Nicole Power, who was my policy adviser from 2013 to 2015 and now lives in Fort McMurray; and Éric Gagnon, who has been with me since 2015. Thank you so much for everything you do. I might add that if anybody is looking for some exceptional people, please keep them in mind.

Over the last 10 years, I have thought many times about how I would deal with the inevitable end of my political career here in the Senate. Sometimes I considered leaving quietly. Other times I thought I would put something on the record. I finally decided to do the latter, and I am sorry to take time away from the Senate’s important business.

How do I explain my life in a few precious minutes? I decided after some soul-searching that I would take the time needed but be thoughtful of your time as well. I understand some things I say may not be important to you and I ask that you bear with me.

Indeed, a very special thank you goes to my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Politics isn’t always easy and living with a politician has its challenges.

To my kids, I hope you know that every decision, policy, proposal or vote I ever made was always with you in mind. I became a politician because I wanted, in some small way, to make our province and country a better place for you and future generations.

With your indulgence, I would like to put on the record the names of my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They are: Chantel and Elly Chavez, their daughter Faye Horth and her sons Bryson and Rylan West; their son Jessy Ferguson and his son Javion; Nathan and Kendra Neufeld; Ryan and Jolene Currie and their sons Connor and Tristan; and Kathryn Hill and her son Grady, who is here in the gallery today, and daughter Darby.

In particular, I want them — and all Canadians for that matter — to fully understand how important the Senate of Canada is to society as a whole and why we should all be thankful for it. I think it is a vital institution in our parliamentary system and an important part of our democracy.

There’s no doubt about it: Democracy in Canada is A-1. Canadians past and present have fought hard for us to live in such a democratic country that protects, defends and values our rights and freedoms.

At times, it may be a bit laborious, but I truly believe we live in the greatest country on earth. Many nations around the world can only dream of enjoying all the things that we have here in Canada.

Democracy as we know it here in Canada was certainly something my parents and grandparents, who immigrated to Canada in 1926, hadn’t experienced back in Russia. They reminded me all the time about how lucky we were to live in Canada and the opportunities this provided.

For the first 15 years of my life, our family, which included my older sister Marilyn and my younger sister Connie, lived in a small southern Alberta community with a population of about 200. My parents farmed and had a small mechanical shop in town. My dad, being a farmer and mechanic, had me working in the fields and getting dirty and greasy in the shop at an early age. I will be quite honest with you: I am very much looking forward to having unlimited time in my own shop to work on our antique tractors, cars and motorcycles.

My mother, bless her soul, was what we called the “voice of reason” in our home, and the one who taught us to be humble and kind and be thoughtful and caring towards others. She was “the rock” in our family.

My parents, in many ways, were the inspirations to my Fred and Martha. They worked hard and lived a modest life but always put others before them. They are your average Canadians.

I hope all of my honourable colleagues will always keep in mind Fred and Martha in exercising their duties and in continuing to make Canada the great country that it is.

In 1959, my parents decided to move to Fort St. John in northeastern British Columbia. I was 15 years old. They felt there would be better opportunities for our family there.

It was a difficult move for me. My older sister had already graduated and married. I was used to a small school where grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 were all combined in the same classroom with the same teacher. Fort St. John was a much larger city with larger schools. I was also starting over with no friends. It was difficult at the best of times.

Like many teenagers, I thought I knew it all. I was 15 going on 20. I was, of course, getting much smarter than my parents. At age 16, my dad told me if I had life all figured out, maybe I should go experience it. So with part of a grade 10 education I started my life away from home and never looked back.

It was much more difficult than I had anticipated, although I had some good life-learning experiences. My first job was on a small dairy farm milking cows by hand for my room and board and five bucks a day. I also worked on a ranch tending cattle for about the same remuneration plus my tobacco.

But deep down inside — and this may seem crazy to some of you — my dream was to drive a truck. There were more and more opportunities in the region because the oil and gas industry was booming. Pipelines, processing plants and refineries were being built at a record pace to move product to southern B.C. for domestic use and export to the United States.

It didn’t take me much time to secure seasonal work with a large oil and gas, heavy-haul and construction firm in Fort St. John that moved drilling rigs all across the northern parts of B.C., Alberta and the territories. This was seasonal work with long hours and long periods of time away from home. When not working in the oil patch, I found other jobs to keep me employed. This went on for a number of years until I found permanent year-round work with the same construction company.

In 1968, I purchased my first truck, an 18-wheeler equipped for moving heavy equipment and drilling rigs. I was 24 and ecstatic. This probably doesn’t mean much to many of you, but my truck and I together were making $16.50 an hour, which essentially takes into account the actual costs of the vehicle, the value of my work and my salary.

In 1972, at the age of 28, the company asked me if I would move further north to Fort Nelson, a community of about 4,000 people, and take over as district manager of their operation, which included a 24-hour truck stop, a truck repair facility and a 24-hour restaurant. My partner and I agreed, so off we went nearly 400 kilometres up the Alaska Highway to Fort Nelson with a one-year-old child. This was supposed to be a five-year endeavour.

I was responsible at times for about 40 pieces of heavy machinery and up to 100 trucks moving rigs and equipment. This was a very busy job with lots of responsibilities including securing work orders, budgeting, invoicing, managing staff and more — all of this in a northern and remote region with some rather difficult terrain and unpredictable weather. Five years eventually turned into 19 memorable and exciting years. As a small remote community with a neighbouring First Nation reserve, everyone worked together and depended on one another.

I eventually quit my job at the construction company and started my own business in 1978 at 34 years of age. It was also around this time that I had my first taste of politics. From 1978 to 1986 I spent time on Fort Nelson’s town council, first as a councillor and later as mayor. It was five years later, in 1991, that I was approached by some local residents to secure the nomination for the Social Credit Party of British Columbia, which at the time had governed the province for a number of decades. This, of course, involved moving back to Fort St. John, which I did.

In October of 1991, I was elected as the Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia for Peace River North. I held that constituency until my appointment to the Senate in January of 2009. I spent the first 10 years in opposition as the NDP held government.

During that period, I also defected to the B.C. Reform Party and later to the B.C. Liberals. For those of you who are unfamiliar with B.C. politics — and a lot of people are — the B.C. Liberals are essentially a coalition of left and right of centre members. Don’t think for a minute I’m actually a federal Liberal. But I appreciate you very much.

In 2001, I ran for the B.C. Liberals and, thanks to Premier Gordon Campbell’s outstanding leadership, we formed government after 10 long and dark years of NDP rule. I was honoured to serve as Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources from 2001 to 2008 and was the longest serving minister in this portfolio in B.C.’s history. I enjoyed managing this portfolio profoundly since I now had to manage the industry that I had worked in for most of my life. It was a challenging yet fulfilling position.

The ministry accomplished a lot of things during my time in cabinet, particularly considering the fact that the world of energy was evolving at a rapid pace. I introduced two energy plans, one in 2002 and an updated plan in 2006. These were the first energy plans the province ever had. They were ambitious plans to invigorate the province’s energy sector. To my knowledge, both of those energy plans are still in place and have not been changed. I strongly believe that under the leadership of Premier Campbell much was accomplished in B.C. and we are better off for it.

Honourable senators, I honestly think that every politician has a shelf life, so after 18 years as MLA for Peace River North I thought it was time for me to move on to something new and allow for some new blood to represent my region. When I made my decision, I was unsure what lay ahead for me but knew I needed a change of scenery and a change of pace. In September of 2008, I told my premier I would not run for re‑election in the upcoming April 2009 election. Premier Campbell was understanding but asked me to stay on as minister until the election. I agreed I would.

As many of you know, when a minister informs the leader of his or her intention not to run again, they are usually replaced by another member who is going to run again, in hopes of increasing their profile leading up to the election. I was surprised and, quite honestly, humbled that Premier Campbell asked me to stay on board.

Then, to my surprise, I received a call from Prime Minister Harper in December of 2008 asking if I would serve as a senator for British Columbia. Many may not believe this, but it was the first time I had ever spoken to Mr. Harper. I was truly honoured to accept and am grateful to the Prime Minister for the trust he bestowed upon me. I want to thank him for that confidence. Little did I know that the work of a senator was as demanding as it is, particularly the travelling to and from Ottawa and constantly living between three time zones.

In fact, I signed my resignation letter as Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources and MLA for Peace River North the same day I signed my oath of allegiance as a senator. As far as I know, it was the first time in history that a B.C. senator actually came from anywhere other than the Lower Mainland or southern B.C. I’m from northern B.C. and that reality has always influenced my work whether as an MLA or a senator.

Colleagues, as you can see, my road to the Senate has been a bit unusual. When I look back at my 16-year-old self who thought he had life all figured out, I can’t help but think of my parents who I hope are looking down on me with pride. Fifty-eight years later, I can tell you now that I did not have life all figured out and still don’t. But I did my best to uphold the values my parents instilled in me, which guided me through my personal and professional lives.

In my view, the moral of my story is: If you set your mind to it, you can achieve great things. I want my kids, grandkids and great-grandkids to always remember that. You have to work hard in life. Things won’t be handed to you on a silver platter.

By the time I retire, I will have served in this chamber for 10 years. I leave behind more than 37 years of public life having served — honourably, I hope — at all levels of government. It’s hard to believe that the first time my name appeared on a ballot was almost four decades ago. It feels like it was just yesterday I started milking those cows and looking after cattle.

It has truly been a privilege to serve British Columbians in Canada’s upper chamber. The Senate of Canada is certainly an incredible place. I know we all feel a great sense of pride and responsibility in serving in this chamber.

As a legislator, I always believed in doing what is right, not what is popular. I did not get involved in politics to win a popularity contest; rather, I’ve always strived to provide the best leadership possible and defend the interests and rights of Fred and Marthas across the country.

I am grateful for a career that took me to every province and territory. I have had the good fortune of meeting many wonderful Canadians across this beautiful country of ours.

To all the Fred and Marthas and, most importantly, to Peter and Jessie Neufeld, I say thank you. You have inspired me to be better and to do better for Canada.

I’ve enjoyed my time here very much. I have learned a lot and thoroughly enjoyed the honour I was given to serve as a senator, and I have never — not once — taken it for granted.

I know I will miss my colleagues on all sides of the chamber, many of whom have become great friends. But don’t get me wrong; I’m very much looking forward to being back home in beautiful northeastern British Columbia and spending quality time with my wife Montana, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and our many friends.

Finally, to Montana — the apple of my eye — who is with us in the gallery today: I want to thank you for putting up with me during my journey in politics, most of which was spent away from home and leaving you with all the responsibilities. I am so looking forward to our time together — uninterrupted — going camping with our kids or riding our motorcycle across this beautiful country of ours.

Thank you all very much. It has been an honour to serve.

Photo by Senate of Canada

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