Riley Mercer: Our audience's pick as top story of 2013

Riley Mercer, the Conception Bay teenager whose ill-fated battle with cancer touched thousands of families, has been chosen as our audience's top story of 2013.
Riley Mercer was diagnosed two years ago with the same brain cancer that claimed the life of his older sister, Alex. (Courtesy Louise Mercer)

Riley Mercer, the Conception Bay teenager whose ill-fated battle with cancer touched thousands of families, has been chosen as our audience's top story of 2013, surpassing stories on crime, politics and breaking news.

To prepare this list, we asked our readers to select their choices, as many as they like, for the stories that mattered most to them. We solicited votes over a two-week period, ending on Dec. 20.

1. Riley Mercer

By a wide margin, the story of Riley Mercer received the most votes in our annual survey, buoyed by a Facebook group that had been set up in tribute to the Conception Bay teenager and his battle with cancer.

The Riley Mercer story was emotional and powerful, and connected with thousands of people in the province. In November, hundreds of people gathered at an emotional vigil outside the Mercers' home, to show support for the teenager. His classmates raised thousands of dollars to cover the expenses of his parents, who were staying home to care for him, and a subsequent fundraiser at Mary Brown's restaurants drew so many customers that people waited for hours to buy chicken sandwiches to support the cause.

Riley Mercer, 15, was diagnosed two years ago with a rare form of brain cancer, the same disease that killed his sister Alex when he was just a preschooler.

Hopes for his recovery, though, were dashed Dec. 10, when the teen passed away.

Police put up lines around Villa Nova Plaza in Conception Bay South, after two people were shot to death. (Amy Stoodley/CBC)

2. Double murder-suicide

Shots rang out at a Conception Bay South medical clinic on the night of Oct. 15, leaving two people dead: Juliane Hibbs and her partner, Vince Dillon. Police locked down the neighbourhood as they launched a manhunt, which ended the following morning when the body of their killer, Brian Dawe, was found in the Anglican Cemetery on Kenmount Road. The RNC labelled it a double-murder suicide, and as details emerged about Hibbs' troubled past with Dawe, her former boyfriend, the tragedy cast light on the darkness of what has been called 'intimate terrorism."

3. Cutbacks in provincial budget in March

The public service had been bracing for months for severe cutbacks, and while the cuts — and the projected deficit — were not nearly as bad as politicians had warned, March's budget still brought a sharp sting. The budget entailed the loss of 1,200 positions, many of them through layoffs and attrition.

4. The changing face of crime

A brutal homicide in a drug house on Tessier Place, a drive-by shooting in a quiet suburb, a series of what the police called "targeted" shootings ... they all painted a picture of how crime in the St. John's area has been changing, and not for the better. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has reported that many of the incidents involve criminals fighting each other, but they cumulatively left a city that's generally considered peaceful feeling a little more uneasy.

Lorraine Michael said she felt betrayed when other members of her caucus called for a leadership convention in 2014. (CBC)

5. NDP implosion

It came by email, and it changed NDP Leader Lorraine Michael's life: a letter signed by the four other members of her caucus, demanding a leadership convention in 2014. Michael spoke out about feeling betrayed, while the party tried to contain the damage. It didn't work: a week later, MHAs Dale Kirby and Christopher Mitchelmore quit the caucus to sit as Independents. The public reacted strongly, with Michael and the NDP both suffering steep losses in public support.

6. Kathy Dunderdale, Tories slip to third place

For Premier Kathy Dunderdale, 2013 was a year of unwanted changes in public opinion polls. She twice ranked as the country's least popular premier, and in June, she and the governing Tories fell for the first time behind both the Liberals and the NDP. A silver lining: satisfaction levels in the government's performance started to rise by the end of the year, and the Tories ranked second to the resurgent Liberals.

7. Peter Penashue

The federal Conservatives spent the first months of the year staunchly defending Peter Penashue from allegations of misspending on his controversial 2011 election campaign. Penashue, though, resigned from cabinet and as Labrador MP in March, while revealing he had accepted numerous "ineligible" contributions. Penashue lost the subsequent byelection in May to Liberal Yvonne Jones.

8. David Folker convicted

Folker had initially maintained he had nothing to do with the 2010 death of his girlfriend, Ann Marie Shirran, but even during the trial effectively admitted to manslaughter. The jury, which heard gruesome testimony of how Shirran's head likely had been kicked in before Folker dumped her body near a Cappahayden campground while their baby sat in a nearby car seat, convicted him in November of second-degree murder. He was later sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of applying for parole for 15 years.

9. Statoil's new frontiers

Statoil Canada made not one but two important discovery announcements this year, pointing the way to what the oil industry sees the frontier for what could be decades to come. In June, the Norwegian petroleum giant revealed oil had been found at a Flemish Pass site called Harpoon. In September, it announced the discovery of crude at another site, Bay du Nord. In all, Statoil now has three successful discoveries on the horizon.

10. Dwight Ball wins Liberal leadership

The Liberals went from worst to first in the polls this year, with Dwight Ball's victory at a November leadership summit capping the party's reversal of fortune. Ball defeated four challengers to win the title that he had been holding on an interim basis. Remarkably, especially for a five-way race, the Liberals held tight to their theme of unity and showed none of the bickering and infighting that sometimes come with leadership races.

The next 10

11. In January, ExxonMobil and its partners announced the Hebron project will proceed, albeit with a much bigger budget. 12. In October, Jerome Kennedy quit as both finance minister and the MHA for Carbonear-Harbour Grace; he returned to his career in law. 13. Muskrat Fallsconstruction kicked into gear in 2013, with the Maritime Link getting final approval from regulators in Nova Scotia, and financing being settled two weeks before Christmas. 14. Concerns about fracking in Gros Morne National Park and elsewhere led to a moratorium in the fall. 15. A moose-eating shark caused a worldwide sensation this fall, after two quick-thinking men pulled a piece of moose hide out of the mouth of a suffocating Greenland shark. 16. The Salmon Festival attracted the Eagles this summer, but also a fair bit of criticism about overcrowding and a lack of water. 17. In June, forest fires near Wabush forced most residents to leave their homes for a couple of days. 18. The Mud Immortal adventure race at Butter Pot Park was a mess, in more ways than one, and remains dogged in controversy. 19. A great white shark equipped with a GPS became a high-profile tourist in late October. 20. CETA, the new trade deal between Canada and the European Union, was touted as being a transforming agent for the seafood industry.


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