New Brunswick politician Keith Ashfield dead at 66

Former federal and provincial cabinet minister Keith Ashfield died in his sleep, less than two months after announcing a political comeback.

Former federal and provincial cabinet minister had planned to run for PC nomination

Gagetown Petitcodiac MLA Ross Wetmore said he took this photo at a fundraising breakfast one day before Keith Ashfield died. He said he will miss his friend. (Submitted by Ross Wetmore)

Former federal and provincial cabinet minister Keith Ashfield has died at 66.

Speaking on behalf of the family Sunday afternoon, Ashfield's past executive assistant Kevin Price, said he died peacefully in his sleep, possibly the result of a heart attack. 

"It's the way he would've wanted it. He didn't want to go through any suffering," he said.

"I've been with the family early this morning. Of course it's devastating, it's devastating to us all. Keith was a lot of things for a lot of people, he was a good family man."

'Quiet time for his family'

Price said the family would like the public to know that all the support is appreciated, but for the next couple of days they ask for quiet time "so they can have an opportunity to move forward and get some arrangements made."

Ashfield is survived by his wife Judy and children Seth and Tara.

Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick president, Rick Lafrance, sent condolences to the family on Twitter Sunday. 

"On behalf of the Progressive Conservative Party of New Brunswick, I want to express our sorrow upon the passing of Keith Ashfield," he wrote.

"Our deepest sympathy to Keith's wife, Judy, his family and to everyone who loved our friend and colleague."

Ashfield announced in early March that he was planning to make a a political comeback, and he had received the PC nomination for the Oromocto-Lincoln-Fredericton riding.

He went through open-heart surgery and cancer treatment while a federal MP, but in March told the CBC his health was "excellent."

Gagetown Petitcodiac MLA Ross Wetmore, who became friends with Ashfield in the '70s, had just had breakfast with him Saturday.

"We were having a good chat, certainly we talk a lot about politics but we were also talking about his summer property ... He was looking forward to getting it open in the spring," Wetmore said.

'Keith was a good guy'

"He just felt and looked great so this is quite a shock."

He said Ashfield will be remembered for his public service and impact on provincial and federal politics.

"No matter what your politics were, Keith was a good guy," he said.

Karen Murdock said Ashfield, who she met more than 20 years ago, was her mentor.

"He was a voice for New Brunswick," she said. "New Brunswick is his small province but we seemed to appear so much bigger when Keith was our ambassador ... There were no party lines, he was loved by all politicians."

Ashfield, a provincial MLA from 1999 to 2008 who served as natural resources minister in the Bernard Lord government, was elected MP for Fredericton and eventually joined Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's cabinet. He was defeated in in the 2015 federal election.

About the Author

Hadeel Ibrahim

Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based out of Fredericton and Moncton. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca