'A great friend': Joe Oliver recounts final conversation with Jim Flaherty
Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca
Published Sunday, April 13, 2014 11:59AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, April 13, 2014 2:15PM EDT
Finance Minister Joe Oliver said the last time he spoke with his predecessor, the late Jim Flaherty, was during a personal conversation in which he thanked Flaherty for his support and for his service to the country.
Oliver, who was named finance minister in March, said he called Flaherty a few days after Flaherty announced his resignation.
"We had a private discussion," he told CTV's Question Period. "The purpose of my call was to thank him personally for what he did for me, how he helped me as a candidate and as a cabinet colleague, and what he did for the country.
"He's a very respectful and kind man, and he wasn't there to tell me what to do, but his track record was the real lesson for me."
Oliver is among the many Canadians paying tribute to the former finance minister who died suddenly last Thursday in Ottawa at the age of 64.
Flaherty's death came just three weeks after he announced he was stepping down as finance minister, with plans to enter the private sector. He will be honoured at a state funeral in Toronto on Wednesday.
Oliver said he heard the news of Flaherty's death Thursday during a meeting with other finance ministers in Washington, D.C.
He said that as news of Flaherty's death spread, other ministers approached him to express their admiration for the man, particularly for his "forthrightness," "his great sense of humour" and for "being a great friend."
Oliver said that during Flaherty's eight years as finance minister he played a central role in helping to slay Canada's deficit – which at one point had climbed to about $58 billion -- by working to simultaneously increase revenue and reduce expenses.
"He was a driver to make sure that we were disciplined and approached that task with the right balance, but with the determination needed to get those numbers down," he said.
Flaherty is largely credited with helping to guide Canada through the global financial crisis. He introduced a $40-billion stimulus budget in 2009 in an attempt to protect the Canadian economy, plunging the country into a deficit. He subsequently vowed to erase the deficit by 2015, and in the 2014 budget the government projected the deficit would total $2.9 billion.
Besides his domestic accomplishments, Flaherty also proved to be an outspoken voice that encouraged European nations and the U.S. to roll back their spending after they began to climb out of the recession, Oliver said.
"He was very much concerned about the huge debts that a lot of countries were burying and he was very concerned domestically," he said. "He very much wanted us to get out of our deficit position, and of course he essentially achieved that. We're well on our way, and next year we'll be able to declare victory for Jim Flaherty."
Oliver said that Flaherty's death has resonated with MPs from all parties because Flaherty always kept debate at the policy level.
He said that Flaherty was a “great believer” in Conservative principles and he never backed down when he felt that important issues were at stake for the country.
But despite his strong political beliefs, Flaherty always conducted himself in the House of Commons in a “civilized way,” Oliver said. “It was never personal.”
Meanwhile, Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of Canada who worked alongside Flaherty before becoming Governor of the Bank of England in 2013, also noted Flaherty's influence on the international level.
Carney told CTV's Question Period that Flaherty earned the respect of other finance ministers, particularly during the 2010 G7 meeting in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
"One of the things he did at (that) G7, he refocused the G7," Carney said. "People listened to him, he cut through the jargon. He got to the basics and provided a real anchor both in the G7 and the G20, and that's one of the many reasons why he's missed."
Carney said the last time he saw Flaherty was in Sydney, Australia, during the G20 summit in February. The meeting coincided with the Sochi Olympics, and Carney spent time with Flaherty cheering on the Canadian men's hockey team.
"We went to a pub along with others in the Canadian delegation at midnight to watch Canada beat Sweden 3-0 in the gold medal game," Carney said. "That's a pretty good last memory. If you have to have one, that's the right one to have."