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PEOPLE
‘A call of a lifetime’: Senator Neufeld says goodbye to the Red Chamber
November 6, 2019

Senator Richard Neufeld has represented the people of British Columbia and Canada for four decades. He served four terms as MLA for the B.C. riding of Peace River North, including eight years as Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. He was also a councillor and mayor of Fort Nelson, B.C.

Appointed to the Senate in 2009, he was a member of Senate committees on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, National Finance and the Arctic. SenCAplus asked Senator Neufeld to reflect on his 10 years in the Senate ahead of his retirement in November 2019.

Senator Richard Neufeld is photographed during his swearing-in ceremony in 2009.

You were first appointed to the Senate back in 2009. What was that moment like for you?

Obviously, it took me by total surprise. I felt very humbled that they would even think of me. I came from a small community in northern B.C. so it was a call of a lifetime. You don’t get a call from the prime minister unless you happen to be really close to him, which I wasn’t. I was 64 and retiring from the province at the time of the call, but I thought I could do a few years and why not take the opportunity? Those kinds of opportunities don’t come on a regular basis. It was awesome that Prime Minster Harper phoned me and I said sure, I’ll do it.

Before becoming a senator, you served as a member of the B.C. legislature. How did that experience prepare you for life in the Red Chamber?

Having spent 18 years there — 10 years in opposition and eight years in government — certainly helped me when I got here. It was different. In federal politics it takes a lot longer to get a decision made than it did with just a province, because when you’re dealing with just a province you look at the big picture and what’s the best thing for the province. When you’re starting to look at Eastern Canada and Western Canada, that’s a learning curve.

You sat on a number of committees during your tenure as a senator. Can you highlight one or two committee reports you worked on that you are particularly proud of and why?

I spent most of my time while I was here on numerous committees, but most of it was on the Senate Committee on National Finance and the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. So, in finance, the penny report was significant. It was one that the government adopted right away and did away with the penny. I’m sure some people are maybe not keen on it, but it was a good report and the government answered to it. The cost of keeping the penny was quite horrendous. I think it cost 1.6 cents to make a penny. The transportation of all of these coins was also significant. The cost was the major thing.

Senator Richard Neufeld served as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources from 2012 to 2017.

Senator Richard Neufeld gives a media interview as chair of the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources during a fact-finding mission on a lower-carbon economy in St-John’s, Newfoundland, in May 2017.

There’s another report we did in the energy committee called Moving Energy Safely: A Study of the Safe Transport of Hydrocarbons by Pipelines, Tankers and Railcars in Canada. I didn’t think the public was being given the correct information about pipelines. So we said we’d better do a study but we’d better do one on rail because that’s how oil was being shipped and it still is today. And then there was the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that had people saying we should shut down the offshore on the East Coast, so we thought we’d better get some of the facts out there from industry. That was a very important report.

We’ve seen more senators being appointed to the Senate in recent months. What advice would you give to them?

They should just watch the people who have been there for a while to find out how everything works. Most of them haven’t been in government before. So, get a little understanding of what government is, how it works before you make any great opinions about different things. They should think seriously about what committees they’d like to be on and ask if there’s something they can contribute from their previous life. That would basically be what I’d recommend.

Senator Richard Neufeld and Senator Diane F. Griffin visit a resident’s home in Prince Edward Island during a Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources fact-finding mission on a low-carbon economy in May 2017.

I watched and listened for quite a while just to see how the machine runs. I had a pretty good idea, but I didn’t know how the machine totally runs here.

What are you looking forward to in your retirement?

I’m looking forward to spending more time at home with my wife and my family — and my cars. Doing some of the things that I want to do, not having to be on someone else’s schedule. I’ve always had other interests in life other than just my job, which I think is important for people to do — to have a good work-life balance. I live on an acreage and that keeps me busy back home in Fort St. John, B.C. I’m looking forward to doing all those things and travelling, but not by airplane. I’ve had enough rides on airplanes. I like to drive the country — you get to see a lot more. In fact, my wife and I spent four weeks on our motorcycle this summer driving through Alberta, Montana, Idaho and the southern part of B.C. before heading back home. We ride together. So, more of that kind of thing.