#darknl tops list of top Newfoundland & Labrador stories of 2014
It was a week-long series of power outages that plunged tens of thousands of customers into darkness, leaving them with no electrical heat and pushing the province into a full-blown political storm that played into a premier's resignation.
There's no doubt that #darknl — yes, it was a phenomenon that had its own has hashtag — underscored the weaknesses in the provincial power supply.
It also triggered investigations, sparked a massive surge in spending on electrical infrastructure and inspired more than one political argument, especially when Kathy Dunderdale stepped down a little while after being rebuked for apparent insensitivity to those in the dark.
Small wonder, then, that #darknl was — by a comfortable margin — our audience's top pick for the most important stories of 2014. We asked our audience to choose from a few dozen stories that dominated our headlines over the last 12 months.
Here's the top 10 of what they had to say.
The year started off with a warning: a caution that Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro's ability to generate power was not that much greater than the daily demands upon it. First came rolling blackouts, then full-blown turmoil on Jan. 4, when a fire at the Sunnyside generating station caused the system to crash.
Things hardly improved: there were subsequent setbacks at Holyrood, and it was a few days before the system seemed to be on stable ground. But the impact of #darknl lasted through the year. Just last week, newly released external reports showed that Hydro's generating capacity remains generally low, and that the risk of future outages remains high.
As the hashtag implies, #darknl was a story that lived and breathed on social media — including well past its shelf-life. It also said something about how political arguments had become attenuated as the months past; we at CBC noticed that some would-be pundits were quick to bring the hashtag out of retirement at the drop of any loss of power, even if it affected just one subdivision for a matter of minutes.
2. Kathy Dunderdale resigns
Coincidentally or not, Kathy Dunderdale's departure from the political scene has been tied to the power outages that plagued the province just two weeks before. (It certainly didn't help, for instance, that Dunderdale insisted that the outages were "not a crisis" on the same weekend that senior citizens were seen being whisked out of a home as cold as a meat locker.)
The broader truth, though, is that Dunderdale would surely have taken her leave if all the lights had stayed blazing bright. The outstanding question was when. Dunderdale, who became premier after Danny Williams' retirement in late 2010, had been telegraphing her unease with staying on for weeks.
It was not a power outage but rather the defection of Mount Pearl South MHA Paul Lane that fast-tracked Dunderdale's plans. She cut short a vacation, called a news conference and announced her plans in the lobby of Confederation Building. She took no questions at the time, and indeed has yet to comment at length on her decision, speaking only publicly since at September's PC leadership convention.
3. Topsail soccer stabbing
A routine skills training exercise on a soccer field in Conception Bay South turned quickly into a moment of horror one evening in September, in a bloody episode that attracted the nation's attention. While dozens of young players went through their paces, a bystander entered the field and stabbed an 11-year-old boy in the neck. The boy recovered, and Nicholas Layman, now 20, has been found fit to stand trial after an extensive mental health assessment.
4. Loretta Saunders
The tragedy of Loretta Saunders played out in other provinces, but the Inuk student's Labrador roots made the story compelling here, as well. Saunders' body was found in the median of a New Brunswick highway in February; her Halifax roommates face charges of first-degree murder in her death. Compounding the sadness of the story was the fact that Saunders had been studying the plight of murdered and missing aboriginal women.
5. Judy Manning appointed to cabinet
Judy Manning was little-known outside some legal and political circles when Premier Paul Davis made the unusual move of appointing the unelected lawyer straight to cabinet, as minister of justice and public safety. Manning was unapologetic when she refused to run in any of three upcoming byelections (the PCs wound up losing all of them to the Liberals), defended a prior workers' compensation role that left most of her decisions unfiled, and implied that questions about her connections (including her romantic relationship with Leo Power, Davis' campaign organizer) were sexist.
6. Frank Coleman
Not so long ago, Frank Coleman's place in political circles was quite different than it was today. The only one of three outsiders to stay in the spring leadership race (Wayne Bennett was kicked out, Bill Barry dropped out), Coleman thus earned the descriptor "premier-designate" even though the Corner Brook businessman was barely known to most people in the province. Though intent on bringing a fresh voice to the Tories, Coleman wound up halting his own political career aspirations in June, weeks before he was to have been sworn in as premier.
7. Pynn-Butler trial
The Supreme Court trial of Philip Pynn and Lyndon Butler came out of a fatal shooting on Portugal Cove Road that followed what police described as a botched robbery attempt. It also provided an absorbing look into a criminal subculture. By its end, parts of the Crown's case fell apart, with Pynn convicted of manslaughter in the death of his friend Nick Winsor, and Butler cleared on all charges against him.
8. 'Mudder, I'm stuck'
A short, hilarious video recorded in a Shea Heights home after a whopping dump of snow in early April turned out to be just the giggle that people around the province needed. Around the province? Scratch that; Barry Horlick's snowbound adventure tickled the funnybone of people around the world, and evidently still resonates; it outpolled many, far more serious options on our list.
9. Tory troubles
It was a year that many in the governing Progressive Conservatives will not remember kindly: a leadership process that started in January and was not settled until the fall; a string of byelection losses; a sustained lack of traction with voters; and now a mounting deficit. New premier Paul Davis admits he has not yet been able to catch a break.
10. Oil prices plummet
The government was bullish about oil prospects when it pegged Brent crude at US $105 for the year. The price barely stayed in that range, by fall was in a freefall that put the government coffers deep in the red. In a financial statement earlier this month, Finance Minister Ross Wiseman said the government now expects to finish its fiscal year with a deficit of $916 million.