We’re taking a look at the biggest stories of 2015. From a drug-fueled crime spree in Surrey, to a province-wide summer drought, to an historic federal election, CKNW was there. On air, online and on social media, we told the stories that shaped Vancouver.
The crime problems in Surrey caused by the low-level drug war over the past year has been an ongoing story.
Earlier this year, there seemed to be a shooting at least once a week, bringing the problem into focus for many.
Back in April, the assistant commissioner of the RCMP’s Lower Mainland district held a news conference to say that he had a plan to deal with the escalating violence, believed to be tied to a low-level drug turf war.
As a result, Surrey’s new mayor, Linda Hepner, promised to beef up the RCMP with 100 new officers within 12 months. It turned out to be very difficult for us to pin down how many new Mounties had actually arrived, and we still don’t know how many new Mounties are now on the ground in Surrey.
Surrey RCMP say spate of shootings all linked
Surrey mayor calls recent shootings “sickening” and “deplorable”
Surrey community forum to be held in wake of gang shootings
Despite federal claims, no new ‘boots on the ground’ yet for Surrey RCMP
Few issues consumed as much media oxygen and political capital this year as the doomed transportation plebiscite.
The vote, a 2012 election promise from Premier Christy Clark, asked Metro Vancouverites to consider a 0.5% tax to fund the the mayors’ 10-year, $7.5 billion transit plan.
But the $6 million “Yes” campaign backed by business, labour, and the mayors’ council ran into trouble early. It launched months later than the “No” campaign, which framed the vote as a referendum on TransLink.
On the heels of chaotic SkyTrain failures and the delayed and over-budget roll out of the Compass Card system, that spelled trouble.
TransLink CEO Ian Jarvis was dropped mid-campaign and replaced with former BC Ferries CEO Doug Allen on an interim basis in a bid to restore confidence in the authority.
But in the end, it was to no avail. The result: a resounding 62% of voters rejected the plan.
In the wake of the loss, TransLink fired key executives and continues the hunt for a new CEO.
With the province recently dumping cold water on the idea that control of TransLink be given to the region’s mayors, the question of how to solve TransLink’s governance and funding impasse will likely drive the news in 2016 as well.
It’s often said that hindsight is 20:20. But this time last year, no one would have predicted Justin Trudeau would be prime minister with a majority government.
It was the surprising conclusion to an historic election. The longest and most expensive campaign in modern history, the first time a party sprang from third to first place to win, and the first time the son of a PM has filled his father’s shoes.
But when the writ was dropped, the election was seen as a three-way dog fight, with a minority government likely. The NDP had a healthy lead in the polls, and the Conservative reputation for campaigning was widely feared by opponents.
But in many ways, that campaign sputtered.
At a time when the Conservatives needed to expand, they focused on negative messaging and divisive issues like the niqab. The campaign’s defining symbol was an attack ad declaring Trudeau “just not ready.”
Clearly, voters thought otherwise. The charismatic son of a famous prime minister was able to rally a unified party, and in the final weeks of the campaign, public opinion.
Here in British Columbia, the party took 15 seats — a feat not seen since 1968 when Pierre Trudeau won 16.
The other big story of the election was the collapse of the NDP, which saw the worst electoral defeat in the party’s history. New Democrats tanked from first place in the polls and 103 seats to 44 seats and the loss of status as Official Opposition.
Turnout in federal election hits 68.5 per cent, largest since 1993 election
Majority Liberal government; Justin Trudeau to be next Prime Minister of Canada
Campaign for the record books wraps up with wild weekend of electioneering
The 11-week march to the October 19 federal election is underway
English Bay oil spill
It wasn’t a massive spill, but it taught us a lot about our lack of readiness. In April, about 2,700 litres of toxic bunker fuel leaked from the grain ship MV Marathassa into English Bay.
Everything we learned about the spill points to us narrowly missing a disaster because of a series of coincidences, including the spill risk being reported twice in the afternoon.
Two eyewitnesses made separate calls, and yet there was no response for three hours. What finally galvanized a response was an aerial photo of English Bay that someone took from a float plane.
“From their aerial view they see this freighter and this massive slick.”
That person immediately sent the photo to Port Metro Vancouver, which recognized it was serious and sent it to the Coast Guard. It was only then that they hit the panic button.
Ultimately it lead to a five-hour delay. Even then, the City of Vancouver wasn’t looped in until the following morning.
English Bay oil spill in pictures
City spends thousands to clean up English Bay spill, but says cash will be tough to recover
Vancouver mayor slams province, feds for lack of leadership on oil spill response
Owners of grain ship deny responsibility for fuel spill; slow Coast Guard response under fire
Summer drought and August windstorm
Even before the summer arrived, there were signs it would be one of the hottest and driest in a generation.
And with the drought, came some of the most intense water restrictions in recent memory.
Metro Vancouver tried to get ahead of the issue with a massive public education campaign towards the end of the spring.
But it wasn’t long before education evolved into escalating restrictions across the region. At the peak, Metro Vancouver applied tough stage-three restrictions. Fountains, outdoor car washes, and all lawn watering were banned as the region struggled to keep water use at 1.2 billion litres a day.
Not everybody was ready to give up on their lawns, and over the season, Metro Vancouver handed out more than 10,000 fines. Along with the violations came public shaming of so called “water hogs.”
More water restrictions effective immediately for Metro Vancouver and the Valley
Thousands racked up watering fines during summer drought
Water restrictions could hit earlier next year, Metro mayor says
In pictures: August storm
The story of the drought can’t be told without a look at the devastating end of summer storm.
On the last weekend of August, 80 km/hr winds slammed into the coast, severely testing drought weakened trees. More than 1,000 of them weren’t up to it, toppling, and causing damage to streets, houses, and crucially, power lines.
At the peak of the chaos, more than 1.4 million Vancouver Island and Lower Mainland homes were without electricity. BC Hydro called all hands on deck, but even so it was more than four days before power was fully restored.
And in a major headache for customers, BC Hydro’s website crashed during the worst of the outtage.
The full cost of the storm still hasn’t been calculated, but it’s estimated to have cost Surrey more than $350,000 alone.
Metro Vancouver Windstorm: Complete up-to-date information
Thousands still without power as rain adds to misery from weekend windstorm
BC residents need to take windstorm as a wakeup call, authorities say
Summer wildfire season
We knew the wildfire season was going to be bad in 2015. Abnormal amounts of lightening activity, dry conditions, record hot temperatures all led to the fire season starting much earlier than usual.
When all was said and done, more than 300,000 of hectares of the province was burned.
The province blew through it’s firefighting budget, spending around $282 million in total.
One of the worst fires in terms of damage was the Rock Creek fire with more than 30 homes burned to the ground.
CKNW reporter Shelby Thom visited the Boulder Creek Command Centre in Pemberton at the end of July while firefighters fought the Elaho Valley fire.
In August, Thom was on vacation in Osoyoos when the fire broke out on the Testalindin Mountain in Oliver.
Hundreds of people were ordered to leave, and part of Highway 97 had to be closed as fire crews responded.
Special Report: Boulder Creek and Elaho wildfires challange Pemberton firefighters
70 homes evacuated near two resorts in Kelowna due to wildfire
Some changes to evacuation orders in Oliver
Volunteers, employees at Oliver winery stay behind to save it
Wildfires can’t crush Oliver winemaker’s spirit
Oliver structure fire a total loss, residents also too close to Testalindin blaze
Updated: Aggressive fire expands evacuation order in Oliver
Syrian refugee response plan
No look at 2015’s stories would be complete without touching on the Syrian refugee crisis currently dominating headlines.
While the war in Syria has been going on since 2011, the plight of refugees didn’t burst into public consciousness until September. That’s when the powerful photo of drowned three-year-old Alan Kurdi on a Turkish beach made international headlines.
The story is was particularly poignant here because of it’s B.C. connection — the family’s aunt, Tima Kurdi, lives in Coquitlam.
The image transformed the refugee crisis into a major election issue overnight, prompting a pledge from now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to bring 25,000 refugees here by year’s end.
While that target turned out to be unachievable, the Liberals are still hoping to bring 10,000 mostly privately sponsored by New Year, with a further 15,000 privately and government sponsored refugees by the end of February.
By December, the first refugees had begun to touch down in Canada. And while the issue has been a divisive one, and scenes of their arrival have had a powerful impact on social media, resonating with Canadians on an emotional level.
The other thread to the story has been the outpouring of generosity from British Columbians.
Since the Immigrant Services Society, which is spearheading B.C.’s refugee response, put out the call thousands of volunteers have stepped forward.
People have stepped forward to open their homes as temporary shelter, donation drives have been overwhelmed with goods, and dozens of independent fundraisers have been organized.
But with just under 2,200 refugees having landed so far, many questions remain — among them, housing, services, and whether the government can successfully meet its timelines.
MAP: First look at where Syrian refugees have settled in B.C.
SEE IT: Burnaby father from Syria reunites with sons after 15 years
B.C. expecting fewer than 2,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees
10,000 refugees will settle in Canada by the end of 2015, another 15K in new year
Ministry of Children and Family Development
It would not be a year of B.C. news if we weren’t talking about the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
A number of disturbing stories have come out of that government ministry this year. CKNW Reporter Liza Yuzda covered many of the stories.
The story of Paige brought many of the ministry’s problems to public attention.
Paige was a young woman who died on the Downtown Eastside in her late teens from a drug overdose.
In a report released by B.C. children’s watchdog Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, it was revealed that a series of failures ultimately led to her death.
Then a mother called JP. The BC Supreme Court judge found the government liable for botching the case.
The mother asked the ministry to protect her children from their abusive father, but instead, they investigated her for being an unfit mother and put the children in harm’s way by giving the father unsupervised access to his children. It was found that he abused the youngest child during one of these visits.
The judge ruled that the social workers worked against her, with tragic results.
NDP demands answers from BC Government in mishandled sexual abuse case
Review launched into case that slammed BC’s Children and Family Development Ministry
Report blames watchdog, media for troubles at B.C.’s ministry of children and families
Finally, the premier called for a review into what happened with the JP case, as well as an overall review of the MCFD.
Retired civil servant Bob Plecas was hired to do the investigation, and his 78-page report outlines some big concerns with a ministry riddled with scandal.
The Leviathan II: Tragedy off the coast of Tofino
One of the biggest stories this year was the tragedy that happened off the coast of Tofino on Oct. 25 when a whale-watching boat capsized with 27 people on board. Ultimately, five British nationals and one Australian man died.
The Coast Guard, search and rescue, members of the Ahousaht First Nation,and even local water taxi drivers sped to Plover Reef near Vargas Island. Amidst the chaos, Sheila Simpson watched paramedics work on survivors.
“I saw someone didn’t make it. He was lying — the body was lying on the dock with a white sheet over him. I wanted to go down and put my hand on his chest, even though he was dead.”
In the ensuing days, it was revealed that none of the passengers who died was wearing life-jackets.
It also became known the touring company, Jamie’s Whaling Station, dealt with another tragedy in 1998, when a rogue wave hit a zodiac at the same site and two people were killed. .
Preliminary findings from the Transportation Safety Board suggested that the two-storey Leviathan II vessel was struck by a rogue wave.