State funeral for Jim Flaherty to be held Wednesday in Toronto
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, April 11, 2014 8:34AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 11, 2014 8:37PM EDT
A state funeral will be held for Jim Flaherty on Wednesday in Toronto. The former finance minister died suddenly Thursday in Ottawa. He was 64.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Flaherty "an extraordinary Minister of Finance who sacrificed an enormous amount in his years of service to Canada and to Canadians.
"He will be remembered with great affection and respect. Jim and his family remain in our thoughts and our prayers at this difficult time.”
A Canadian finance minister has not received a state funeral since the 1930s.
Former NDP leader Jack Layton was the last Canadian politician to receive a state funeral. He died in August 2011.
Tributes have poured in from politicians across the country and beyond following the death of the recently retired cabinet minister.
Flaherty “served Canada with a heart as big as the country itself,” said Labour Minister Kellie Leitch as MPs paid tribute to the veteran politician Friday morning.
Parliamentarians took turns reading tributes to Flaherty in the House of Commons in place of the usual question period before they disperse for a two-week Easter break.
Speaking on behalf of the government, Leitch recalled how Flaherty convinced her to get into politics and mentored her after she arrived on Parliament Hill.
“It was with his can-do attitude that he became a mentor and a champion for me personally and for many of his colleagues both in this place and abroad,” Leitch said in an emotional speech.
As tears filled her eyes, Leitch noted that Flaherty, “loved his country and served it with a heart as big as the country itself. The gap he has left will not soon be filled.
NDP MP Peter Julian recalled a “genuine, decent and kind” political adversary and friend who was “affable and always friendly.”
Liberal finance critic Scott Brison noted that Flaherty’s “greatest pride was his family.”
Brison said that when he and his partner announced they were expecting twins, the ever-competitive Flaherty reminded him that he and his wife had triplets.
Flaherty’s personal and political triumphs and challenges served as a lesson to all Canadians, Brison said, “that there are no permanent victories or permanent defeats, just permanent battles.”
A bouquet of red roses was placed on Flaherty’s House of Commons desk, with a card from MPs saying, “You are and will always be missed.”
Flaherty died just three weeks after resigning from cabinet, citing a desire to move to the private sector. Paramedics rushed to Flaherty’s downtown Ottawa condominium shortly before 12:30 pm Thursday on reports that a man was unwell. Flaherty was declared dead shortly after.
The news reached MPs just as they were gathering in the House of Commons for question period, which was suspended. The flag on the Peace Tower at Parliament Hill continues to fly at half-mast, as does the flag at the Ontario legislature.
Earlier Friday, Harper tweeted a photo of the Peace Tower flag, saying: “In memory of our dear friend, Jim Flaherty (Dec 30, 1949-Apr 10, 2014).”
The carillonneur will play an Irish melody on the Peace Tower bells beginning at noon Friday, and a book of condolences has been set up in the Hall of Honour.
Toronto’s CN Tower will be lit green on Friday night in honour of Flaherty.
After the House adjourned, Leitch told reporters she saw him on Wednesday night while he was out having a burger.
“He seemed to be in fine form, so it’s all very sudden,” she said of his death.
Earlier Friday, current and former colleagues paid tribute to Flaherty.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, a long-time family friend of Flaherty’s, said he will remember Flaherty most for his “passion and his Irish grit.”
O’Toole said Flaherty practiced politics just as he played hockey.
“He was prepared to go into the corners if he needed to, but he was more of a finesse player,” O’Toole told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday.
Like many who have paid tribute to Flaherty, O’Toole noted how the 64-year-old would always make time for friends and family despite his busy schedule.
“Despite how busy and how stressful his job was, he always found time for friends and colleagues and family regardless of what side of the House of Commons they were sitting,” O’Toole said.
Flaherty mentored many young Conservative MPs, including O’Toole and Leitch. While his death leaves “a hole in our caucus,” there are a dozen or so members “who will be his legacy, as well, because he helped us all along the way.”
Treasury Board president Tony Clement, who worked with Flaherty for 25 years in both the Ontario legislature and in Parliament, said Flaherty could be a “tough adversary” in politics, but was also “passionate about his country and extra passionate about his kids and his wife."
Clement told Canada AM: “It’s like a gaping hole in my heart thinking about all that he has done for the country, but all that he has meant to so many of us over all these years.”
Former Ontario premier Mike Harris, for whom Flaherty served as finance minister in the mid-1990s, called Flaherty a political “a kindred soul” and a “kind and generous man.”
“He was a fun man,” Harris told Canada AM. “Jim had a great sense of humour, so he was fun to be with.”
Harris said they shared the same fiscal beliefs that governments should not spend money they don’t have and leave it to future generations to pay back. Even though Flaherty held high-pressure, high-profile cabinet positions both in Ontario and at the federal level, he could always lighten the mood of meetings.
“At the end of the day he enjoyed a pint of beer and a story,” Harris recalled.
Harris said it’s “not fair” that Flaherty did not get the chance to enjoy a life after politics.
“This is the great tragedy, that he gave so much to the province and Canada and he deserved time with his family and in the private sector with his friends and to enjoy life,” Harris said. “That was taken away from him and that is very, very sad.”
Flaherty stepped down as finance minister last month, citing a desire to work the private sector and the chance to spend more time with his family. Flaherty was married to Ontario MPP Christine Elliott and the couple had triplet sons: Galen, John and Quinn.
While Flaherty remained the MP for Whitby-Oshawa, he was not seen in the House of Commons over the last three weeks.
Flaherty suffered from a rare but painful skin condition, bullous pemphigoid, for which he had to take powerful steroids. Medications left him bloated and appearing fatigued, and weakened his voice. His resignation statement said his health had nothing to do with his decision to resign, saying he was “on the road to a full recovery.”
Flaherty was one of Canada’s longest-serving finance ministers, and he will be best known for steering the country through the global financial crisis of 2009. He will also be remembered for aggressive tax cuts, as well as measures to encourage Canadians to save money. These included the Tax-Free Savings Account, as well as the Registered Disability Savings Plan to help Canadians with disabilities save for the future.
Measures for people with disabilities were particularly important to Flaherty, whose son John has an intellectual disability.
In a loving and passionate 2010 newsletter post called “What Heaven Looks Like,” Flaherty said being John’s father “has changed my perception of what really matters in life.”
He wrote about John’s brush with death before aged two, and how his son taught the family “what matters in life: love, family, helping others, trying hard and having fun.”
Flaherty wrote: “John has given us not only joy in life, but also a strengthened desire to help others, especially persons with disabilities.”