BC Energy Minister Richard Neufeld is getting appointed to the Senate  as Stephen Harper attempts to pack the much-criticized body with 18 appointments in case his government falls in January. Chalk this up as another elegant solution for Premier Campbell who has done an extraordinary job managing what is in essence a coalition government.

Campbell has almost seamlessly kept the former SoCred, Reform and small “l” Liberal factions of his party at bay for going on 7 years now. This is no easy task and is getting even harder as he tries to position his legacy as a climate leader while funding his government by massively expanding oil and gas in the province.

While ostensibly being Minister of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources, it was those petroleum resources that put a gleam in Neufeld’s eye. Minister Neufeld, the MLA for Peace River North, never ever met an oil and gas project he didn’t like. While he has quieted down a bit since Premier Campbell got the climate change religion, Neufeld continues to be the biggest cheerleader for drilling for oil along the BC coast, for various tar sands pipeline projects, and for the expansion of oil and gas drilling outside the Peace region in the form of coalbed methane, and shale gas. Neufeld’s fossil fuel addiction was likely to become an increasing impediment for Campbell on climate change. Hence Neufeld’s exit stage right to Ottawa with a sweetheart almost lifetime appointment.

Rumour has it that Nuefeld was promised two terms as Minister of “fossil fuel drilling” to accommodate the right-wing faction of the Liberal party. Neufeld’s two terms are over in May so the Senate appointment avoids what could have been a divisive transition. 

Neufeld was likely to be a lightning rod as the election approached. He personified the contradiction inherent in the BC governments attempt to become leaders on climate change while simultaneously trying to outdo Alberta as the best friend of the fossil fuel industry. These industry friendly policies created a gas rush in BC and led to the collection of billions  of dollars from auctioned leases and royalties and allowed for the Campbell government’s ongoing tax cuts.

Neufeld’s upcoming exit also bodes well for the growing push for a moratorium on  coalbed methane in the province. Despite the fact that coalbed methane has been rejected by virtually every community where it has been proposed, Neufeld’s ministry continued to push CBM to the point of obsession. Rumour has it that Neufeld pushed for BP’s contentions coalbed methane tenure in the Elk Valley a couple of weeks ago in order to ‘balance’ the two-year moratorium announced on Shell’s Sacred Headwaters project.

With Neufeld gone perhaps cooler minds can reach some reasonable accommodation.

Neufeld frequently couldn’t open his mouth without digging a hole. Virtually very person I know that met Neufeld was subject to a diatribe about their transportation methods and whether they had traveled by any form that required gasoline. It was so predictable it could almost be scripted. About the only thing we will miss when he heads to Ottawa is the fun we used to have parodying him in role plays.

Personally, I have had little interaction with Minister Neufeld. A couple of years ago I sat next to him on a flight into Fort St. John. Initially I didn’t recognize him as I was drafting a letter for Treaty 8 First Nations about fossil fuel issues. He kept on leaning over and trying to read my LCD screen so I kept on turning away. When I was done writing I realized who he was and introduced myself. He immediately got up and relocated to a seat in the rear of the plane. His latest move, from a seat at the BC cabinet to one at the Canadian Senate will similarly  allow him to dodge concerns about the environment.

Neufeld succeeded in ramping up BC’s fossil fuel industry – mostly by gutting regulations, streamlining the approval process, reducing royalties and implementing a lucrative subsidy package for industry – but with the threat of climate change growing by the day, BC needs an Energy Minister better able to balance economic and environmental imperatives.

The challenge is there is no obvious choice in Premier Campbell’s caucus.