Mourners honour Jim Flaherty at state funeral
Published Wednesday, April 16, 2014 6:07AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 16, 2014 6:02PM EDT
“What a sad time this is in the life of our country,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told mourners Wednesday as he paid tribute to Jim Flaherty during a state funeral for the former finance minister, who died suddenly last week at age 64.
“We have lost a partner in politics,” Harper said, addressing Flaherty’s widow, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, and their triplet sons, John, Galen and Quinn. “But you have lost a partner in life.”
In a warm, heart-felt eulogy with flashes of humour, Harper recalled their give-and-take relationship as they steered the Canadian economy.
“Our divergences always narrowed and usually vanished,” Harper said.
“When they didn't, occasionally I imposed a final decision. Occasionally, I decided he was probably right. And occasionally, I decided he was wrong but let him have his way, just because I got so tired of arguing with him.”
Harper said he hesitated years ago when asked whether Flaherty was the best finance minister in the world because he was reluctant “to shell out too much praise.”
He joked that after careful consideration, he answered: “He is, without a doubt, the best finance minister per inch in the world.”
Harper removed that qualification when Flaherty retired, telling his friend that “he had truly been, over these eight years, in my judgment, the best finance minister in the world, if not indeed the best in our history.”
The prime minister paused to fight back tears when he told Flaherty “not to be a stranger.”
“I don’t want you to misunderstand me,” Harper said. “I do not grieve for Jim Flaherty. I know that for Jim, the Lord has prepared a place where he can be free from the afflictions of recent times, and in joy.”
Flaherty’s sons Galen and Quinn eulogized Flaherty as a father who would continue to guide them in their lives.
“You were the best father that three boys could ask for,” Quinn said.
Flaherty taught his boys to value four things that his family had “in abundance,” Quinn said: “friendship, family, faith and love.”
“Dad, I love you, we love you,” Quinn said. “Put your feet up, lay your head back, close your eyes and relax. We will take it from here.”
Son Galen joked that his father had “a relaxed side, and a not-so-relaxed side.”
But, Galen said, “he loved his family, he definitely loved his friends and he loved his country.”
Elliott recalled a “driven, intense perfectionist” who would also do anything for his children.
Turning to address her sons standing behind her, Christine Elliott said: “Your father loved you completely.”
Flaherty’s sister, Norah, also delivered a short eulogy, saying that while “the second-best thing about Jimmy is that he is a great Canadian,” the first-best thing is he was a “terrific brother.”
The Flaherty family has been holding annual reunions for 33 years, she said, “and Jimmy never missed a single one. As Jimmy would say, ‘family first.’”
Mourners in green
Before the service, RCMP officers in their red serge uniforms carried Flaherty’s casket into Toronto’s St. James Cathedral to the sounds of the choir singing “The Burial Sentences” by William Croft.
A Toronto Police honour guard also stood outside the church as Elliott and her sons made their way inside.
Hours before the service got underway, politicians of all stripes gathered at the church, many wearing green ties or other articles of clothing to mark Flaherty’s Irish heritage. Mourners were also given green scarves to wear around their necks.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and a host of cabinet ministers and opposition MPs are in attendance.
The church choir and organist played hymns as mourners filed into the church. Dignitaries could be seen mingling and exchanging hugs before taking their seats.
Current and former premiers, prime ministers and governors-general are also in attendance, including Gov.-Gen. David Johnston and his wife, Sharon, former prime minister Brian Mulroney with his daughter, Caroline, and former governor general Adrienne Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul.
An overflow of mourners watched the service in one of four tents erected on the cathedral’s front lawn.
Flaherty died last week, less than a month after resigning his post as finance minister. He had been suffering from a painful skin condition, bullous pemphigoid, but said that it had nothing to do with his decision to step down. Rather, he cited a pending move to the private sector and a desire to spend more time with Elliott and their sons.
Following Flaherty’s death, tributes flowed in from politicians across the spectrum, who spoke admiringly of Flaherty’s political savvy, strong sense of humour and ability to make time for friends and family despite his busy schedule.
Flags at Parliament Hill’s Peace Tower and the Ontario legislature were lowered to half-mast, while Toronto’s CN Tower was lit up in green lights.
Flaherty’s state funeral is the first since August of 2011, when former NDP Leader Jack Layton was given the honour. State funerals are generally reserved for current and former prime ministers, governors general and sitting cabinet ministers.
Ted Menzies, who served as Flaherty’s parliamentary secretary, said Wednesday that his former colleague “gave his heart and his soul for this country.”
He recalled Flaherty’s “compassion for those who couldn’t help themselves,” and his willingness to fight for what he believed in.
“He was feisty, he was an Irishman, he had a temper and he knew how to do battle,” Menzies told CTV’s Power Play. “But he knew how to do battle in all the right places.”
Flaherty’s communications director, Chisholm Pothier, said he will remember how Flaherty handled the impact of the global financial crisis “when it hit full-bloom in 2008,” including a massive stimulus program that put the country into deficit.
“He was the minister of all Canadians and the fate of Canadians was very important for him,” Pothier told Power Play. “He wasn’t going to be an ideologue.”