Why Jim Flaherty can afford to act casual

The finance minister drops the artifice — and a budget date

Adrian Wyld/CP

Jim Flaherty’s manner of speaking to journalists has evolved dramatically over the years. Early on in the life of the Harper government, the finance minister was reliably upbeat and pugnacious. When the Great Recession hit, he turned appropriately grave. Since he’s been battling a skin disease, which he disclosed publicly about a year ago, he has often appeared drained of energy.

Today, as he talked to reporters—a few hours before announcing in the House of Commons that he’ll deliver his 2014 budget on Feb. 11—Flaherty adopted a sort of blasé minimalism. His answers were brief, broad, and equivocal. (Incidentally, he evidently wasn’t keeping it short because he’s feeling unwell: On his health, he declared that it isn’t affecting his work.)

For instance, asked if he expects the Conservatives will take advantage of his projected balanced budget in 2015 by doing some opportunistic spending before that fall’s scheduled election, he said, “I’m not going to spend a lot of money,” but then added matter-of-factly, “I’m not the only person who makes these decisions.”

In the same vein, at another point, he said, “I’m not a big spender,” and indicated that his junior ministers, who were standing behind him, aren’t “big spenders, either.” Then he noted with a wry smile, “But there are some in our caucus, perhaps, who would spend more than we would.”

Interpret as you will. I guess Flaherty means to convey that he personally isn’t inclined to spend much, but, hey, who knows what the rest of the cabinet and Tory caucus might insist upon? This isn’t surprising as a reflection of political reality, of course. But it is unusual to hear a finance minister talking about such internal tensions.

At another point in the same news conference, he was asked, more narrowly, if the federal government might invest more in its proposed Canada Job Grant, since it’s becoming increasingly obvious that provinces and employers won’t be contributing as much to the proposed training program as Flaherty had hoped when he announced it in last year’s budget.

At first, he deferred to “the minister responsible” for the job grants scheme—that would be Employment Minister Jason Kenney—but then allowed, “There will be room for more money in the government of Canada in the next several years because we’ve been careful.” I don’t think he intended to signal that the Canada Job Grant is going to get an injection of more cash for sure, but rather that this was among the possibilities after the budget is again in the black.

For him to respond that way strikes me as oddly casual. I say oddly, because, almost always in the past, federal finance ministers I’ve listened to have tried to be precise and authoritative, or, if they can’t manage that, to dodge questions entirely. Flaherty has grown willing to talk less formally—there’s “room to maneuver” on spending—and to shruggingly acknowledge his limits—“I’m not the only person who makes these decisions.”

On the Canada Job Grant, he even freely admits the thing isn’t a done deal. Amazing—this was arguably the biggest new initiative in the 2013 budget.  “Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’ll take time. The concept is a good concept. We’ll just have to keep working on it,” he said when asked about provincial reluctance to sign on to the program. “I’m hopeful that it will work out.”

It’s helpful to know that Flaherty retains some hope on that score. Just as it’s useful context to learn that, even if he’s inclined not to indulge in a pre-election spending spree, others in the government feel differently.

I suppose Flaherty’s long tenure in the top cabinet job has earned him the right to drop some of the artifice that usually goes with positions like his. And today’s off-hand tone was by no means new from him. In the recent past, he’s remarked on how he remains open to expanding the CPP, even as the government took a hard line against the idea as a “job-killing payroll tax,” and has casually alluded to his preference for abolishing the Senate, even while the government is still for reforming it.

If he keeps this up, it will be worth listening very closely to Flaherty when he tables his Feb. 11 budget and in the days to follow. The script doesn’t seem to mean all that much to him these days.




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Why Jim Flaherty can afford to act casual

  1. Flaherty has seen the writing on the wall….and it’s signed by Harper.

    Time to daydream about retirement.

  2. After the sorry display when asked about Rob Ford, any public appearance where he doesn’t break down sobbing is an emotional success.

    • WOW. You’re making fun of the guy for clearly caring about a personal friend? I bet you have a lot of really close friends.

      • If he really cared about Ford he had two options. 1) if JF thinks the addiction allegations are true, publicly ask him to seek help. Nobody would think less of him for it and it might do some good. 2) If he thinks they are not true, give Rob Ford a full-throated defence on the record.

        It speaks volumes about Ford AND Flaherty he did neither.

        THAT is how you treat friends, neither involve self-indulgent blubbering. While I realize sometimes we are too quick to demean men when they show any anger save emotion, he was weak when he could have done something to help. think curling up in a little ball and sobbing when he hears next years unemployment numbers will do anything, Jim? You’re probably wrong.

        • Really? You think the best way to deal with a friend with an addiction is to publicly call them out? Again, glad you’re not my friend.

          If someone were to tell the public that you had an addiction, would you ever trust that person again, sober or not? Of course not. That’s not AT ALL what a real friend would do.

      • Nah,he’s probably trying not to gag over that little Flaherty puke squeezing out a photo-op tear for a rich, violent, defamatory thug who, like the Harper regime, incessantly refuses to cast tears for suffering every day Canadians.

  3. He appeared to be slurring his speech in Question Period today. He seems like he is on the way out.

    • I think he’s having a lot more trouble with his health than he wants to let on, poor guy. Leave Steve and retire and get well; dude’s got comfy pensions to fall back on, and he just looks and sounds sick sick sick.

      • Well, give him back his lucky charms, then.

  4. He’s just trying to take the edge off the public’s realization that he’s balancing the budget on the backs of pensioners, who won’t be able to collect old age pension until 67 instead of 65.

    • Um, in 20 years. So yes, a 45 year old today will have to wait until they’re 67 to collect a pension. So sad, considering life expectancy will have jumped by about 10 years in that time.

    • They increased payroll taxes by raising EI premiums – those tax raising cons! – and are raking in a surplus that is actually going toward the budget. They aren’t really balancing anything, anyway, they’re simply trying to cover up for one of the most egregious self-serving gravy train governments in history. From millions in fake ad scams, to billion dollar fake lakes, fake jets, fake citizenship ceremonies and vacations to Israel for hordes of their closest insiders. Smoke and mirrors by a bunch of disgraced crooks.

      • I can’t think of a government — conservative or otherwise — who have done much better in recent history. No point using partisan language when they all have danced us down the same kinds of paths.

      • the EI premiums have stopped going up and wont for the next 3 years, get your facts up to date before you throw your partisan bs around

        • “stopped” going up. CPC’s been in power for 7 years already. So what happened? Did the possibility of 10 straight years of tax increases for the “no tax increases” party cause even them to blush?

  5. Yeah, he’s not a big spender but how about doing some really big spending on health care in this country (even if his health care is just fine doesn’t mean he can go on ignoring the plight of most canadians) since ‘Canada ranked last among 11 OECD countries in terms of how quick patients can get an appointment with their regular family doctor according to a A 2013 health policy survey by the Commonwealth Fund showed that Canada has seen no improvements in wait times since 2004. The survey results were published Monday in a Health Council of Canada report, which found that depending on where you live in Canada, your experience with the health care system can be vastly different.’

    Germany took the top stop on the list with 76 per cent of patients being able to see their doctors same-day or next-day, followed by New Zealand at 72 per cent and Switzerland at 69 per cent.

    The U.S. ranked second last in the same category, with 48 per cent of those polled south of the border saying they could get a same-day or next-day appointment.

    Nearly half of Canadians (47 per cent) reported that they recently went to an emergency department for a health problem that their regular doctor could have treated if he or she had been available — the highest among the countries surveyed.

    Up to 15% of Canadians don’t have a family doctor

    Read more: http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/canada-ranked-last-among-oecd-countries-in-health-care-wait-times-1.1647061#ixzz2rdevOJ6B

    • Healthcare is a provincial responsibility. It’s high time all the provinces started taking this responsibility seriously and stop trying to blame the problems on Ottawa.

      • If health care is a provincial responsibility then why does the federal government have a health minister? It seems whenever there is something going on in health care that they don’t like they put their oar in and screw things up. For example when there was the issue of studies on CCSVI for MS patients they were quick to vote it down and they’ve certainly stepped ind messed things up for users of medical marijuana to make sure they get a chunk of change out of that in the form of taxes but when the delivery of health care is so pathetic as that of Canada it’s for the provinces to deal with.

    • Just throwing more money (more than the already 6% increases every year I guess?) at healthcare isn’t going to make it better, it needs to be more efficient as well.

      • The Cons already cut the Health Transfer payments to provinces, by not including the regular 6% increase, last year !?
        And they did it without any consultation whatsoever….

  6. If his face gets any fatter and redder it will likely blow up before the next budget. Is it from crying over the Ford family’s downfall?

    • He has a rare skin disease called bullous pemphigoid. Criticize his policies or his connection to the Fords or even engage in speculation about his ability to continue to serve, but don’t make fun of his appearance; that’s below the belt.

    • He’s on a drug called Prednesone (sp) for his skin disease which ‘moons’ the face, It’s a steroid and is intended to halt the disease but the disease seems to be winning. For his own sake, I hope he at least takes a medical leave to fight this.
      *Someone will now call me a Con shill

      • I’ll call you a Lib shill for suggesting the greatest finance minister this country’s ever had take a medical leave to fight an illness he says he’s managing well :)

        • Jimmy “what recession?” Flaherty’s performance couldn’t get him a job counting drug money for a crack gang. Geesh, no wonder you cons have utterly tanked in the polls. You’re ridiculous :)

        • And then Rick sez…

          the greatest finance minister this country’s ever had

          LOL. Look everyone. Rick Omen does sarcasm.

        • “the greatest finance minister this country’s ever had”

          I see you’re working on your standup routine again…

    • Bullous pemphigoid is a painful skin disease. Treating it with medication causes the red, puffy skin as a side effect.

    • typical leftist thug response. If yo were at all current you’d know there are health reasons for the condition. F off D head

  7. Jim Flaherty is in pain and wants to retire. There is no bench strength or apparent heir, so he carries on…making decisions ..off balance. This in itself is a reflection of the CEO. Where is the accountability within the Conservative Party? This is yet another reason to remove Harper before it is too late.

    • This comment was deleted.

      • No, Harper should be removed because he shows poor judgment in keeping an ill man in that position. There are serious doubts about Flaherty’s capacity to continue doing the job. Instead It appears Harper doesn’t really care whether the person in that job is up to performing it, that’s a disservice to the country and to Flaherty.

        • The only people who have any doubts about Flaherty’s ability to do his job now, are the same people who had doubts the day he took the job. Ie. partisan Liberals and Dippers. Why else do you think the Liberal media are constantly talking about how poor he looks? They’re trying to paint their own picture.

          • No.

            I certainly don’t believe Flaherty is competent as a Finance Minister given his performance in Ontario, and that was when he was not ill.

            There have been a series of events where Flaherty has been erratic, tired and obviously having difficulty.

            Allowing him to stay in his position, ill as he is, is simply wrong, it’s not as if no one in the caucus is unable to do what Flaherty does.

            Harper shows poor judgment in allowing Flaherty to indulge himself in believing to feel he is indispensable. A good leader would show compassion for the person and consideration for the overall organization by putting a successor in place.

  8. Almost sounds like he’s taking shots at the bossman…

  9. Recent polling shows Canadians are judging Harper and his cabal more on the senate scandal than on their economic claims, which are themselves subject to much scrutiny and context. The cons are deflated and demoralized, with little prospect of seizing power in 2015, Pierre Poutine or no Pierre Poutine. Watch for increasingly bizarre and antagonistic behaviour from this gang. They have nothing left to lose,

  10. Jim Flaherty is a contradictory twit. First, he appears on CTV jawboning the dollar lower and only the next day tells reporters he doesn’t discuss the dollar’s value. Probably best if he just retired up north somewhere.

  11. Jim Flaherty has no clue about real economics, and I doubt that he makes any decisions on financial matters. He is a puppet of the boys in short pants in the PMO

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