Former Senator Richard Neufeld was honoured with the Freedom of the City Thursday night with a small ceremony held at Fort St. John city hall.
Neufeld is credited for giving a stronger voice to Northeast B.C. over his 40 years in politics, most notably as MLA for Peace River North from 1991 to 2008, and as B.C.'s energy minister for eight years. In 2009, he was appointed to the Senate and aged out at 75 for mandatory retirement on Nov. 6, 2019.
Neufeld says he was motivated to see the wealth generated by the oil and gas industry remain in the Peace River region and pushed for the creation of several fair share agreements and policies. He says co-operation between municipal and provincial governments made it all possible.
"That was a tough push through our own caucus because we had many members that lived in rural B.C., not just Northeast B.C., but other parts that were saying some of the same things," said Neufeld. "But we all worked hard, everybody. It didn't matter who it was, councillors, mayors, regional district reps, myself, and people in Victoria, that used to come and ask me all kinds of questions about it."
"I was lucky," Neufeld said. "I had a ministry where most the people were entrepreneurs, they wanted to do things. So it was a little easier for me in most cases to get some of the things done that I did."
Neufeld began his political life as a councillor and mayor for Fort Nelson from 1978 to 1986, after several years working on the ground in the oil and gas industry as labourer, truck driver, heavy equipment operator, and eventually with his own business.
“I worked all over the north: B.C., the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alberta, and the Arctic. All jobs that require you to work together — and I want to stress that, to work together — to get the job done,” said Neufeld. "Not much different than politics, just a different arena. And I enjoyed pretty much all of it."
Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman thanked Neufeld for the impact of his political work.
“Those of us who live here in this region will be forever in your debt for what you brought to the legislative assembly of this province,” said Ackerman. "Your hands on knowledge of our industry and how you changed that, and in turn changed our industries."
MP Bob Zimmer, who is in Parliament in Ottawa this week, left a video recorded message recounting his long friendship with Neufeld.
“You were always there to hear the needs of local British Columbians, and you were committed to British Columbians, and you always showed up. I can’t thank you enough for always being there," Zimmer said. "You chaired the natural resource committee for many years, you brought your knowledge to the job, and most of all you brought your heart. You really cared about our country.”
MLA Dan Davies, who is in Parliament in Victoria this week, penned a letter to thank Neufeld, which was read by Ackerman.
“Knowing you over the past many years, I cannot think of a more deserving person than you to receive this incredible honour," Davies wrote. "The work and lasting impact of your dedication will be felt and appreciated for many years.”
Past Freedom of the City recipients have included long-time alderman Charles “Bud” Hamilton in 1979, the 2276 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in 2006, and former mayor Jim Eglinski.
Freedom of the City was also awarded posthumously to seniors advocate Jean Leahy in 2019, and arts and culture ambassador and community organizer Sue Popesku in 2020. Formal ceremonies for those individuals are still to come.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Email Tom at email@example.com