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Who was the best PM? Gordon Gibson says Mulroney

Globe and Mail Update

"Who was the greatest Prime Minister since Lester B. Pearson?"

That's the question that Gordon Gibson — a former aide to Pierre Trudeau and a former leader of the B.C. Liberal party &151; addressed Saturday in his Globe essay The one we love to hate was our best leader in years

"The contest realistically lies between only three people, Trudeau, Mulroney and Chrétien.

"The others — Clark, Turner, Campbell and Martin — are but footnotes, fine people as they were."

Mr. Gibson stresses: "The question is Great Prime Minister. It is not great man, or great politician, or great party leader. Those questions would have very different answers."

"Without doubt — and I say this not simply because I worked for him for four years — Mr. Trudeau was the greatest man . . .

"Mr. Chrétien was the best politician, in a mean and cunning way . . .

"[But] on balance, out of all, emerges Mulroney. I speak not of Mulroney, the man. Present process will deal with that. I speak only of the record of achievement."

Whatever you think of the three men, Mr. Gibson has certainly raised a provocative argument — particularly at the end of a week in which Mr. Mulroney testified for four hours before the Commons ethics committee about his business dealings with German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber.

So, we are pleased that Mr. Gibson will be online today from 1-2 p.m. EST to answer your questions about his essay and to debate the issue.

Join the Conversation at that time or submit a question or comment in advance.

Your questions and Mr. Gibson's answers will appear at the bottom of this page when the discussion begins.

Mr. Gibson is a senior fellow in Canadian studies at The Fraser Institute.

He served as an executive assistant and as a special assistant to Mr. Trudeau, and is a former leader of the B.C. Liberal Party.

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Christine Diemert, globeandmail.com: Mr. Gibson, thanks for joining us online today to discuss your essay and Canada's prime ministers. I have to say my opinion shifted after I read your piece, but we'll start the discussion and see what others think.

Keith, Ottawa: I have a bit of a problem with the entire premise of the question relating to this discussion. In your article, you write: "Jimmy Carter was a good man but many American scholars think he was a terrible president. The same people consider the Nixon presidency a good one, whatever one thinks of the man. Prime ministers should be assessed on this basis, too." Doesn't the answer to the question "who is the best PM, president or whatever" reflect more the qualities of the person answering the question rather than a fair assessment of who was actually the best? If you asked a black man from inner-city Detroit who was the best president, Carter or Nixon, he may be more likely to respond that it was Carter because of many of his poverty-fighting strategies and his work on social-justice issues . . . And doesn't the question also beg the answer in respect to the fact that even if a certain leader has good ideas, but those ideas are not followed through, they are inevitably going to look bad by virtue of the lack of success?

Gordon Gibson: I think you have two points. The first is the political version of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", and of course this is true. It has never stopped societies from forming an abstract idea of "beauty" though.

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