When a book 'written with acid' made headlines in Ottawa

Thirty years ago, a book painted an unflattering portrait of a political leader a few months ahead of a federal election.

Greg Weston's 'Reign of Error' drew headlines, scorn from some Liberals upon publication

A 1988 exposé on Turner raises controversial questions about the man and the politician. 2:35
Thirty years ago, John Turner spent a weekend turning the pages of a book by an Ottawa journalist that he didn't really want to read.

It was called Reign of Error and it was written by newspaper reporter Greg Weston. It was about the Liberal leader and it landed on bookstore shelves just a few months ahead of a federal election.

Unfortunately for Turner, it was not the kind of book that would help generate good publicity for him.

"The book may not contain any blockbuster news stories, but it is written with acid and the portrait of John Turner couldn't be any less flattering," said the CBC's Neil Macdonald, when describing the book's contents on The National on Sept. 9, 1988.

No plans to buy extra copies

Reign of Error was deeply critical of Turner's leadership and the man himself. 

Turner did not offer much immediate comment on the book when it was published. But he read it on the weekend after it came out, according to a report on The National.
John Turner comments on Reign of Error, a few days after its release. 0:41

On the Monday following the weekend, the Liberal leader didn't want to discuss specific allegations in the book, though he suggested it was intentionally negative.

"I'm not going to give it to anybody for Christmas," he told reporters.

'Some unflattering parts in it'

Others in the Liberal party also were upset by what was in Weston's book — though most of the people he'd spoken to after the book was published didn't take issue with the overall work.

Journalist Greg Weston responds to criticism about his 1988 book Reign of Error. 1:14

"They weren't happy, of course, that there were some unflattering parts in it, but they also recognize that it's a true representation and some of them, actually, said they thought I went soft in some spots," Weston told CBC's Midday, the same day Turner spoke to reporters.

Weston said some Liberal MPs had claimed they did not say what Weston quoted them saying, but he had the interview transcripts to back up his work — which he would share publicly, if necessary.

"I don't mind fair criticism. I don't like someone saying: 'I never said' what they said, or that a story is completely untrue that someone told me and told me with authority," said Weston.

No response received

Turner did not speak to Weston while he was working on Reign of Error, despite repeated efforts by the journalist to reach him.

Weston said he was never told why the Liberal leader wouldn't talk to him.

"Mr. Turner's principal secretary, Peter Connolly, once told me that a reply to my letter was quote 'in the mail,'" said Weston. "Needless to say, I never received it."

Brian Mulroney (seen at right) led the Conservatives to power for a second election in 1988, while the John Turner-led Liberals again formed the Official Opposition. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

In a 2011 biography of Turner, historian Paul Litt wrote that Reign of Error "sold well and kept doubts about Turner's leadership qualities in circulation."

When Canadians headed to the polls in November of 1988, the Liberals doubled their seat count, but did not form the government in Ottawa.

Turner, a former prime minister, would not lead the Liberals through another election. His eventual successor, Jean Chrétien, would lead the Liberals to power in the following election.