New Brunswick’s top news stories of 2018: July to December

For many in New Brunswick, 2018 was a year marked by tragic events, dramatic change and a shift in the political landscape.

Although New Brunswick is a province that operates under the nation’s radar, stories such as the Fredericton shooting, the New Brunswick floods and the provincial election drew Canada’s attention to its only bilingual province.

Here are some of the most important stories from the second half of the year. (For a look at the top stories from January to June, click here)


New Brunswick heatwave

New Brunswick experienced numerous Environment Canada heat advisories, as humidex values peaked at near record highs.

In New Brunswick, the summer was hot. Too hot.

It seemed like every other day, Environment Canada found itself issuing another heat warning for at least some part of the province.

Temperatures were constantly reaching the 30s, and humidex values were hitting near-record highs.

The heat warnings were only issued when very high temperature or humidity conditions were expected to pose an elevated risk of heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion.


Fredericton shooting

Bobbie-Lee Wright, 32, Donald Robichaud, 42, Const. Sara Mae Burns, 43, and Const. Robb Costello, 45, were identified by the Fredericton Police Force as the victims of a shooting in Fredericton.

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 10, tragedy stuck the New Brunswick capital.

Fredericton Police Force members Const. Robb Costello and Const. Sara Burns as well as civilians Donnie Robichaud and Bobbie-Lee Wright were shot and killed on Brookside Drive around 7:45 a.m.

Police say Costello and Burns were responding to a report of shots fired when they were killed. When they arrived, the responding officers found two civilians — a man and a woman — on the ground.

The next day, Matthew Vincent Raymond was identified as the suspect in the shooting and was charged with four counts of first-degree murder. He later pleaded not guilty to the charge, saying that he should be “exonerated” as a result of “temporary insanity.”

Raymond underwent a psychiatric assessment and was found fit to stand trial, but a new 60-day psychiatric assessment was ordered to assess his mental state at the time of the alleged offence. That assessment was ordered on Dec. 11.

Thousands of police officers from across the county were in Fredericton following the shooting to attend the regimental funerals for Costello and Burns. Officers laid the caps and belts of the fallen constables on top of their caskets, covered by Canadian flags, next to roses placed there by family members.



New Brunswick Progressive Conservative leader and Premier-elect Blaine Higgs embraces his wife Marcia as he addresses supporters at his campaign headquarters in Quispamsis, N.B., on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018.

September saw the conclusion of a bitter and contentious provincial election in New Brunswick.

Twenty-five seats is the magic number needed to form a majority in the 49-seat house, but no one party was able to reach that limit. Instead, voters upended the province’s traditionally two-party system to deliver the first minority government in New Brunswick since the 1920s.

Although the Tories, led by Blaine Higgs, won 22 seats in the legislature, the aftermath of the provincial election meant that Brian Gallant and the Liberals, who won 21 seats, would be given the first kick of the can to form government.

Political posturing and verbal sparring between the Liberals and Tories would dominate the news cycle as each party sought to court the People’s Alliance and the Greens — each of whom won three seats in the legislature — to help form government.

It would be more than a month until it became clear which party would form government and lead the province into 2019.


Refinery explosion

Flame and smoke erupts from the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., on Oct. 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Stephen MacGillivray

A quiet Thanksgiving turned into a dramatic escape for many workers at the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John on Oct. 8.

There were no serious injuries as a result of the explosion, which occurred at 10:16 a.m. and was felt kilometres away.

“It felt like a truck had run into the building I was in,” said resident Doug Bruce, who was about five or six kilometres away from the refinery at the time of the explosion.

Many took to social media to share photos and videos of the explosion, while first responders headed to the scene.

No one suffered major injuries, but the circumstances surrounding the explosion remain cloaked in secrecy even months later, with questions being raised about how Irving had responded to the incident.

Cannabis legalization 

Growing flowers of cannabis intended for the medical marijuana market are shown at OrganiGram in Moncton, N.B., on April 14, 2016.

Oct. 17, 2018 marked a new day for cannabis consumers in New Brunswiuck with the arrival of federal legalization.

New Brunswickers lined up early in the morning at the 20 retail stores of the newly created Crown corporation Cannabis NB to be the first to get their hands on legal marijuana.

Some chose to stay home instead and place orders through Cannabis NB’s online store.

Whatever method New Brunswickers chose to purchase their legal cannabis, the Crown corporation did brisk business, with sales in the first 48 hours of legalization totalling roughly $950,000.

But legalization has not been without growing pains in New Brunswick, as supply shortages have caused Cannabis NB stores to be closed across the province.

At one point in November, more than half of Cannabis NB stores were closed due to the supply shortages, as officials admitted that getting an adequate supply was a “challenge.”


Higgs sworn in

New Brunswick Progressive Conservative leader and Premier-designate Blaine Higgs shakes hands with outgoing premier and New Brunswick Liberal leader Brian Gallant following the Throne Speech at the New Brunswick Legislature in Fredericton on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/James West

November opened with the fall of Gallant’s Liberal government as they were defeated in a confidence vote.

Gallant was offered a dim glimmer of hope that his minority government could survive at least a bit longer when all three Green members said they’d vote in favour of the Liberals’ throne speech, giving him 23 votes.

But with the People’s Alliance saying they’d vote against the throne speech, it was not enough and the government fell.

In its wake, Blaine Higgs, a tight-fisted fiscal manager who spent 33 years as a senior executive for one of Canada’s richest families: the Irving clan, became the province’s 34th premier.

It didn’t take long for Higgs to leave his mark, with the new premier saying he would treat taxpayers like customers.

He swiftly followed through with a commitment to challenge the federal government’s carbon tax, officially intervening in a court challenge launched by the government of Saskatchewan.

Higgs has even floated the idea of reviving the cancelled $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project, which would have moved western crude to refineries in eastern Canada, and an export terminal in Saint John, N.B.

 Dennis Oland retrial 

The second trial of Dennis Oland, who is accused of second-degree murder in the death of his father, Richard Oland, took a shocking twist in November soon after the jury was selected in October.

A two-week delay in the trial was revealed to be the result of legal deliberations after it was discovered that a Saint John police officer used a police database to track all interaction would-be jurors had with police.

Some of that information was then passed along to the Crown during the jury selection process.

Justice Terrence Morrison said the Crown was unaware of that fact but declared a mistrial and dismissed the jury, saying it would leave “an impression of potential bias that would taint the jury process itself and, potentially, the verdict that they might ultimately reach.”

As a result, the trial has continued in front of Morrison alone.

But the mistrial has sparked a whole host of other issues, with the New Brunswick Police Commission declaring that it would look into the process of jury vetting and the New Brunswick Police Association accusing the commission of violating the privacy of an officer who had investigated the Oland case.

The trial, which was adjourned over the holidays, is set to resume on Jan. 7, 2019 and is expected to last until March.


Higgs’ capital spending cuts

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs listens on as Lt. Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau reads his government’s Throne Speech at the New Brunswick Legislature in Fredericton, N.B., on Nov. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/James West

December saw New Brunswick’s new government table a $600-million capital budget that dramatically curtailed spending — a shift from the big spending of the previous Liberal government.

Plans for a new New Brunswick Museum along the Saint John waterfront have been put on hold as a result of the decision, while infrastructure upgrades throughout the province were also kiboshed.

Health care cuts have been felt in Saint John, where previous financial commitments to local intensive care, surgical and oncology units have now been shelved. In some cases, funding announcements had already been made.

Cuts were also made to the coronary care unit project at the Moncton Hospital, where fundraising had already started.

Finance Minister Ernie Steeves said the government made hard decisions in order to return to balanced budgets by 2020 or sooner.

But the decisions weren’t welcomed with open arms by New Brunswick MPs, who questioned why the province was cancelling projects — such as improvements to Route 11 — that would’ve seen the federal government match funding 50 cents on the dollar,

—With files from the Canadian Press and Global New Brunswick staff

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