Friday, April 11, 2014

A Tribute to Jim Flaherty

Laura Payton of CBC News reports, Jim Flaherty, former finance minister, dead at 64:
Jim Flaherty's colleagues, political opponents and friends are remembering him for his commitment to public service, his playful sense of humour and his devotion to his family.

Flaherty, who resigned last month as federal finance minister, died of an apparent heart attack Thursday at age 64.

Flaherty's wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, asked for privacy on behalf of her and the couple's triplet sons, John, Galen and Quinn.

"We appreciate that he was so well supported in his public life by Canadians from coast to coast and by his international colleagues," Elliott said in a statement.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to Conservative MPs and senators, called Flaherty — until last month, his only finance minister — his friend and partner.

"This comes as an unexpected and a terrible shock to Jim's family, to our caucus and to Laureen and me," Harper said, as his wife, Laureen, wiped tears from her face.

A source close to the family told the CBC's Evan Solomon that Flaherty died of a massive heart attack. Emergency services were called to Flaherty's home in Ottawa at 12:27 p.m. Thursday.

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch, who lives in the same building, was administering CPR when paramedics arrived, according to sources. Leitch is a pediatric surgeon who co-chaired Flaherty's campaign for the Ontario PC leadership. Flaherty was her friend and mentor.

Flaherty had battled health problems in the months leading up to his resignation, most publicly, a painful skin condition called bullous pemphigoid. But Flaherty had also experienced a medical issue during a Conservative caucus meeting some time in the last eight months. He was attended to by Leitch on that occasion as well.

Conservative MP Bernard Trottier said on CBC News Network's Power & Politics that Flaherty's Conservative colleagues thought at the time the problem was related to "extreme fatigue."

MPs suspended the House of Commons just before the daily question period Thursday, around 2:15 p.m. ET, as news of Flaherty's death made its way through Parliament Hill. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair moved for the adjournment.
MPs hug, shake hands

"After consultations among House leaders, there is general agreement the House will now suspend," Speaker Andrew Scheer told MPs.

The flag on the Peace Tower was lowered to half-mast in Flaherty's memory and Ontario's provincial legislature adjourned early. Flaherty was a member of Queen's Park in Toronto for 10 years.

G20 finance ministers, including Canada's Joe Oliver, are meeting in Washington, D.C.. They will start their evening with statements on Flaherty's death.

Opposition MPs crossed the floor to shake hands with Conservative MPs and offer their condolences. Some hugged each other.

An hour later, Conservative caucus members were gathered in a room on Parliament Hill to hear Harper's statement and reminisce. Harper had been scheduled to meet with the visiting president of Peru in the room.

Many senators and MPs were visibly upset, wiping tears from red-rimmed eyes. Some gathered to comfort Leitch.

Leitch said in a statement that Flaherty had encouraged her to get involved in politics.

"He was my champion. Canada has lost a giant and our government has lost one of its most respected and capable members," she said.

"Jim’s family meant the world to him and he took great pride in telling his colleagues of their successes and accomplishments. My heart breaks for them and words cannot express what they must be going through."

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who started working with Flaherty when they were members of Ontario's legislature more than two decades ago, tweeted his grief.

"Just crushed at the loss of my colleague and friend @JimFlaherty. We spent 25 years together in public life. An Irish lion is gone," Clement said on Twitter.

Mulcair, often a fiery opponent of the Conservative government, made an emotional statement outside the House.

"Catherine and I want to express to Christine Elliott our profound sadness at the departure of our friend Jim Flaherty," Mulcair said, his voice breaking.

"We share in their loss. We're very, very sorry for their loss. Jim Flaherty was an extraordinarily dedicated public servant," Mulcair said.

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Flaherty had been his mentor at Queen's Park, Ontario's legislature.

"I could always rely on Jim to be a devout friend through tough times, and an encouraging figure through good," he said.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a family friend of Flaherty's, tweeted his condolences to Elliott and said he was devastated.

"The Ford family is heartbroken," he tweeted.
'Absolute commitment' to Canada

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was on a plane to Vancouver when the news broke but tweeted his reaction after landing.

"Like all Canadians, I join in expressing my sadness at Jim Flaherty’s passing. My sincere condolences to @chriselliottpc and his children," he said.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said MPs were all in shock. "I don't think there was anyone better loved across party lines."

New Democrat MP Charlie Angus recalled being in Rome with Flaherty, relaxing with a couple of beers.

"He looked like a little altar boy, he was so proud to be in Rome," Angus said.

"It's just so bloody sad."

Liberal MP Scott Brison, a former finance critic, said Flaherty was a great father.

"You could differ with him, but you never ever doubted his absolute commitment to serving the people of Canada," Brison said.

Bruce Heyman, the new American ambassador to Canada, noted Flaherty's eight years in "one of government's most demanding roles."

"That he did so during challenging economic times makes his achievement all the more impressive," Heyman said in a statement.

At the time he stepped down from cabinet less than a month ago, Flaherty said he planned to eventually return to the private sector.

His final tweet as finance minister, announcing his departure, was his last: "It has been an honour to serve Canada. Thank you for the opportunity," it said.
You can read more reaction to the death of Jim Flaherty here. Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of Canada and current Bank of England Governor, paid tribute to his friend saying he had an "enormous influence" on him:
Mr Carney, who led the Bank of Canada from 2008 to 2013, said Mr Flaherty was an "enormous influence" on him.

“From his sound management of the Canadian economy to his invaluable contributions to international policy making, Jim Flaherty has exhibited the very best of Canadian virtues in service to our country," Mr Carney said in a statement on Thursday night.

"Jim Flaherty played a central role when the G20 came of age in Washington in 2008, and when it forged its greatest contributions in London 2009 and Toronto 2010. He was a true believer in multilateralism, leading, urging, cajoling the members around the table to pursue policies that would promote strong, sustainable and balanced growth for all.

"He was a man of principle who believed in fixing banks when they were broken, sound money and balanced budgets.

"I had the privilege of working with Jim Flaherty for the better part of eight years. He was an enormous influence on global policy and on me personally. I know many colleagues will feel his loss and I will miss him tremendously.

"He gave everything for his country and the world economy. A man of principle who loved to laugh and debate. He won more often than he lost and he gave more than he received."
Jim Flaherty did give everything for his country. Along with Paul Martin, who publicly shared his condolences, Jim Flaherty will go down as one of the greatest Finance Ministers in our country and one of the most beloved politicians.

Let me share with you what impressed me the most from Jim Flaherty. From 2008 to 2010, I worked as a senior economist at the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), replacing another senior economist who was on maternity leave.  It was a very busy and chaotic time at the BDC as they were guaranteeing bank loans from Canada's major banks.

At the time, banks weren't lending money to small and medium sized enterprises. Large companies had access to credit markets but even they were having a hard time obtaining credit. I remember one thing from that experience. Jim Flaherty was on the phone with Jean-René Halde, BDC's president and CEO, every Friday morning getting updates on the situation. I'm sure he did the same thing with Steve Poloz, the current Governor of the Bank of Canada who was then president and CEO of Canada's Export Development Company (EDC).

Canadians will remember Flaherty as a nice, jovial Finance Minister who cut the goods and services tax (GST) and introduced tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs). Flaherty did a lot more than that. He introduced the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), a long-term savings plan to help Canadians with disabilities and their families save for the future (every major Canadian bank except for the National Bank of Canada offers them. Wake up Louis Vachon!!).

In fact, Flaherty did more to help Canadians with disabilities than any other Finance Minister, probably because one of his three triplet sons also suffered from a learning disability. He also did a lot to help the average working class Canadian and in the end, publicly disagreed with Prime Minister Harper on income splitting.

One area where I wish Flaherty also publicly disagreed with Harper was on enhancing the Canada Pension Plan for all Canadians. Unfortunately, he caved to his boss who shamelessly pandered to banks, insurance and mutual fund companies peddling their silly PRPPs. I truly believe that privately, Flaherty knew defined-benefit plans are far superior to anything the financial industry could offer and was willing to move on it but he got clipped.

In the end, Jim Flaherty died of a massive heart attack. He was taking heavy doses of cortisone to deal with the pain of his rare skin disorder. I only took cortisone treatment twice in my life and hated it. The first time was back in June 1997 when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and a year after when I lost partial vision in my right eye from optic neuritis.

Did this treatment contribute to his ill health? It sure did but the stress of the job didn't help either, as Flaherty weathered crisis after crisis. The biggest tragedy in all this was that he resigned from the post of Finance Minister to spend time with his family and to go work in the private sector. CTV reporter Craig Oliver, a close friend, told CTV that he was looking forward to "making some money," no doubt to take care of his family.

Below, the CBC reports on the sudden and tragic death of Jim Flaherty. Canada lost an outstanding Finance Minister and a great Canadian yesterday. My deepest sympathies go to his wife Christine Elliott and his three sons, John, Galen and Quinn. Their father was a great man and they should be proud of his honorable record in public service and incredible achievements helping working class and disabled Canadians.