Local journalist James McLeod reports from the trenches on the two-year period, from 2013-2015, that saw the fall of Newfoundland’s once-mighty Danny Williams Tories, the DarkNL power outage (and outrage), the Year of Three (and a half) Premiers, the implosion of the New Democratic Party, and the rise of the Liberal Party to power under one of the least charismatic leaders of modern times. For anyone who follows Newfoundland politics, say what you will about the last few years — they certainly haven’t been dull.
McLeod tells us from the beginning that this is not going to be a “tell-all,” which is sometimes disappointing. There were times when I definitely hoped that the journalist’s perspective would reveal something that the general public hadn’t learned about the events we all saw played out on social media and in the evening news. What was Lorraine Michael really thinking when she decided it was a good idea to go to the media with that letter? What was Frank Coleman’s “family issue”? And where the heck did the yellow “Team Davis” flags come from??? All of these stories will come up in the course of Turmoil, As Usual, but you won’t find out any answers that weren’t already revealed to the general public. So if you were hoping for a shocking expose, this is not that book.
It is a good book, though, if what you’re looking for is a journalist’s view of what it’s like to report on the frequently bizarre world of Newfoundland politics, spiced with some behind-the-scenes detail and candid reflections not just on the parties and policies, but the personalities involved. McLeod is unsparing in puncturing the egos and facades of politicians — and he’s an equal-opportunity puncturer. Liberal, Conservative and NDP politicians all come in for often scathing analysis of their shortcomings, as well as (in a few cases) some generous words about their finer qualities. (Interim premier Tom Marshall is the only political figure who gets an almost straight-A from McLeod, both as a human being and a leader, though this may be because he wasn’t in power long enough to do too much damage).
But along with the personal glimpses of our elected officials, there are other glances behind the scenes at things most of the public is less aware of — like what really goes on at party conventions, and the almost-fanatical devotion of a few faithful, card-carrying party members who make it their business not only to support their leaders but attack anyone who criticizes them. Or how important social media really is in both politics and journalism today, and how a storm can erupt in the House of Assembly over a live Twitter feed that’s going out at the same time as the members are debating — a situation that those who first created our parliamentary system could hardly have envisioned.
Honest, detailed, and often merciless in its analysis of the politicians he’s spent so much time interviewing and following around, James McLeod’s Turmoil As Usual is a must-read for anyone who enjoys following our local blood-sport, politics. You won’t agree with all his conclusions, but you’ll certainly be entertained, and perhaps a bit better informed, by reading them.