Canada’s political class laid former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to rest today at a state funeral in Toronto, where he was lauded for his political pragmatism, his work on behalf of the disabled and his humor.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney, Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz and Flaherty’s successor Finance Minister Joe Oliver were among about 800 people attending The Cathedral Church of St. James in downtown Toronto, where police cordoned off streets as queues began forming at midday in temperatures barely above freezing.
Flaherty died in his apartment in Ottawa at age 64, leaving behind a legacy as a committed fiscal conservative who converted to government activism in order to save his country from the worst of the global recession. The Globe and Mail newspaper reported Flaherty died of a heart attack. No official cause of death has been given.
“What a sad time this is in the life of our country,” Harper said in his eulogy. “He was a man who was highly principled and ruthlessly pragmatic, combative but engaging, smart, very smart and educated, while never assuming that he knew it all.”
Mourners at St. James including about 100 prominent lawmakers, policy makers and religious, business and aboriginal leaders received green scarves as they entered the church, in honor of Flaherty’s Irish heritage. Legislators shut Canada’s parliament and many openly wept as news of his death on April 10 spread through Ottawa.
Flaherty was born Dec. 30, 1949, in the Montreal suburb of Lachine. He studied at Princeton University on a hockey scholarship, and earned a law degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He would stay in the greater Toronto region the rest of his life, raising his family in Whitby, Ontario just east of Canada’s largest city.
Flaherty had been the only finance minister to serve in Harper’s cabinet since the Conservative government came to power in 2006. He stepped down from the post March 18.
Before entering federal politics, he spent 10 years as an Ontario legislator, including a stint as the province’s finance minister. His wife Christine Elliott is also an Ontario lawmaker for the Progressive Conservatives.
In inflation-adjusted terms, Canada’s economy has outperformed the G-7 average in all but one year under Flaherty.
Canada’s economy grew 56 percent in U.S. dollar terms between 2005 and 2012, equal to $655 billion in additional annual production, compared with an average 28 percent among 35 advanced economies tracked by the International Monetary Fund, and 23 percent for the other six G-7 countries.
“At one time, Canada was no better than middle of the pack,” Harper said. “Today in an uncertain world, Canada will have a balanced budget years ahead of others.”
Flaherty spent his last years in office seeking to restore his credibility as a fiscal conservative in part to finance an ambitious tax cut agenda that, along with staving off the global economic crisis, may be his most significant achievement. Cuts that have reduced the federal government’s tax take to its lowest in more than 50 years are evidence of his conservative credentials, Flaherty had said.
“Jim’s most important contribution to our country, without doubt, came by virtue of his long service as Minister of Finance, especially by virtue of being Minister of Finance during and after the great global recession,” Harper said.
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