Former Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty, who died on Thursday at the age of 64, was an Irish Canadian whose values were forged by adversity and his blue-collar roots, according to an obituary in The Globe and Mail.
Credited with restoring a balanced budget and helping to raise Canada’s image as a worthy example of fiscal stewardship during a crisis, Flaherty attributed his “feistiness” to his Irish roots in an interview on CTV last year, saying his family name is inscribed on the city gates of Galway in Gaelic.
“Dear God, protect us from the wrath of the O’Flahertys,” he recalled it saying. “I thought, you know, it’s not bad training for finance minister.”
Flaherty, born on Dec 30, 1949, was the sixth of eight children. He grew up in the working class town of Lachine in Montreal’s west end, where his first job was delivering newspapers. Although measuring a slight 5-foot-3, he had a passion for playing hockey.
“If we wanted extras like new skates, we were expected to work for them,” he told the Hamilton Spectator in 2002.
Flaherty went to the prestigious Princeton University on a hockey scholarship. While there he heard Robert Kennedy speak about the importance of public service. During the summer of 1968, when he was 18, he began knocking on doors for Pierre Trudeau’s campaign for prime minister.
Flaherty graduated from Toronto’s Osgoode Hall Law School and was married for a short time. The Bay Street lawyer eventually grew disheartened with Trudeau’s carefree attitude toward spending.
“It was really irresponsible,” he recalled, “these deficits and debts and the inflation that followed.”
Flaherty married again, this time to Christine Elliott. In 1991, the couple had triplet boys, John, Galen and Quinn. Then in 1994, after practicing law for decades, he helped found his own firm.
One year later, he entered politics as an MPP for Whitby-Ajax in Mike Harris’s Common Sense Tory landslide.
The Globe and Mail reports that “Mr. Flaherty quickly aligned himself with the family values caucus of social conservatism. After winning re-election in 1999, he became attorney-general, a legal pulpit he seemed to relish, introducing a crackdown on so-called squeegee kids on Toronto’s streets. There didn’t seem to be a wedge issue this pro-life politician didn’t like.”
Flaherty ran to succeed Mr. Harris in the 2002 Tory leadership race, but lost to Ernie Eves.
“The campaign was also noted for its hospitality suites, replete with Irish whisky and Irish dancers,” reports The Globe and Mail. “But it could also be remembered for its pledges to sell off the Liquor Control Board, make homelessness illegal, and ban teacher strikes.”
“After another failed run for leadership in 2004, Mr. Flaherty heard the siren call of Ottawa in 2005.”
In 2006 he was elected Finance Minister in Stephen Harper’s new minority government. His eight-year tenure was the third longest for a Canadian finance minister, reports Bloomberg.com, “during which he implemented one of the most far-reaching episodes of Canadian government stimulus since World War II, relying on spending and state guarantees to the banking system to expand the economy. Flaherty spent his final years in office reversing those measures, pledging in a Feb. 11 budget to return the nation’s finances to balance by 2015.”
In 2009, Flaherty was named Finance Minister of the Year by EUROMoney Magazine, which said he ‘enhanced his country’s reputation for sound fiscal policy that takes full account of social justice, while a strong regulatory regime has kept the financial sector out of the chaos.’”
Early last year, Flaherty announced he had an acute autoimmune skin disease called bullous pemphigoid. Less than a month ago, he resigned from his post to go into the private sector but claimed that health was not a factor.
On April 10, Flaherty passed away in Ottawa. Police responded to a medical call to his home at 12:27 pm, and paramedics pronounced him dead on the scene. A statement released by his family announced his death without listing the cause, but reports say he suffered a heart attack.
Flaherty “passed away peacefully,” his wife Christine Elliot and their sons John, Galen, and Quinn said in the statement.
“We appreciate that he was so well supported in his public life by Canadians from coast to coast to coast and by his international colleagues.”
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement released on Friday that Flaherty was "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 state funeral will be held for Flaherty next Wednesday in Toronto. He will be the first Canadian finance minister to receive a state funeral since the 1930s, according to CTVnews.