Less than a month after he stepped down as Canada’s finance minister, Jim Flaherty died in his Ottawa home earlier today at age 64.
When he left the role in March, the Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson wrote the following about Flaherty:
“Brand Canada” today stands for a well-ordered financial sector, prudent fiscal and monetary policy, skilled management of the recent financial crisis, and a rigorous approach to restoring balanced budgets.
As finance minister from February 2006 until Tuesday, Jim Flaherty played a starring role in that story, though he was by no means the only star. Whatever Canadians might think about Mr. Flaherty’s legacy, the world will remember him as the man who sat in Canada’s chair when Canada set an example for the world.
That’s about as strong a eulogy as any will deliver for Flaherty, who rose to prominence as prime minister Stephen Harper’s finance minister from the first day of Harper’s Conservative government in February 2006. Though Harper and Flaherty (pictured above) inherited a strong fiscal position from the outgoing Liberal government, Flaherty’s financial management steered Canada away from the worst of the 2008-09 global financial crisis, with a healthy assist from Canada’s sound, if conservative, banking system.
Over the course of his eight-year tenure as finance minister, Flaherty steered an Canadian economy that often narrowly outperformed even the US economy in terms of GDP growth:
Flaherty came to national politics only after a decade of somewhat feistier political warfare in Ontario’s provincial assembly, where he also served (briefly) as finance minister at the end of former Ontario premier Mike Harris’s government from 2001 to 2002. He unsuccessfully sought the leadership (twice) of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, losing the 2002 contest to Ernie Eves and the 2004 contest to John Tory.
But the Tories have yet to wrest back power from the Liberals, who have controlled Ontario’s government since Harris left office in 2002 — under Dalton McGuinty until 2013, and now under Kathleen Wynne. It’s ironic to note that if Flaherty had won the Ontario PC leadership, he might have been waiting around today to become Ontario’s premier. Instead, he’ll be remembered as one of the leading lights of the Harper era, and one of the ‘grown-ups’ who have given credibility to the Conservative Party as a party of government after years of disunity and fracture.
He was also a loyal guy. Flaherty was a longtime family friend of the Fords, the family that gave the world a punchline and Toronto a mayor in Rob Ford. It’s not often that you see a finance minister of a G-8 economy become teary-eyed, but his tender remarks on the occasion of Ford’s admission of using crack cocaine were some of the more memorable — and humanizing — comments of the entirely sad Rod Ford saga.