OTTAWA – In what Stephen Harper called “an unexpected and terrible shock,” former finance minister Jim Flaherty died suddenly on Thursday.
His family said he died peacefully.
“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,” said the statement issued on behalf of Christine Elliott and her triplet sons, John, Galen and Quinn.
The House of Commons abruptly suspended its sitting before question period began as word of the death spread. Opposition MPs flooded across the aisle to offer condolences to Flaherty’s colleagues. Some members wept.
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A sombre Harper gathered his caucus to mourn.
“Today is a very sad for me, for our government and for all of our country,” he said. “I learned a short while ago that our colleague, my partner and my friend Jim Flaherty had passed away suddenly today.
“This comes as an unexpected and a terrible shock to Jim’s family, to our caucus and to Laureen and me,
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I offer my family’s condolences and I know the condolences of the entire Parliament and government of Canada to Jim’s wife Christine and his sons Quinn, Galen and John.”
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair’s voice quavered and he had to squeeze his eyes against tears as he recalled Flaherty as “a strong, tough character” and a “great Canadian.”
“As minister of Finance, Mr. Flaherty served his country with dedication and conviction, even as he faced mounting health challenges. As both a man and a politician, I will remember him for his pleasant demeanour and strength of character.”
The Ontario legislature, where Flaherty sat for a decade, held a moment’s silence for Flaherty and recessed.
Former Liberal MP Bob Rae tweeted: “Saddened to hear that Jim Flaherty has died. He was a tenacious, effective and dedicated politician who reached across the aisle.
“Jim Flaherty was an extraordinary and dedicated public servant.”
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said she was shocked to hear the news.
“That’s a real loss for our country,” she said.
“Jim Flaherty returned our country to a balanced budget. I can tell you from experience, that’s really hard to do, it takes a lot of tough decisions. He was man of character, that’s a terrible loss for Canada.”
John Manley, president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, praised Flaherty’s leadership and judgment:
“Canada has a lost an extraordinary public servant, a man who was respected across our country and around the world,” he said.
Peter Coleman, head of the National Citizens Coalition, said he was saddened by the news.
“Jim Flaherty provided a steady hand through tumultuous economic times.”
Earlier in the day, emergency vehicles were seen parked in front of Flaherty’s downtown Ottawa condo building.
Until his unexpected departure in mid-March, Flaherty was the Harper government’s first and only finance minister.
He got the job in 2006 and held it for eight years through shuffles, international economic turmoil and a bout with a rare skin disease that had him on steroids.
The condition was not thought to be life-threatening at the time.
Flaherty was a colourful, jocular man with a penchant for self-deprecating humour and witty banter that took the edge off some of his political jibes.
He began his political career at the provincial level, serving in a variety of cabinet portfolios in Ontario before making the jump to the Commons.
He became an MP in 2006 as Prime Minister Stephen Harper formed his first government. Flaherty became Finance minister.
As minister, he presided over a series of tax cuts and then ran huge deficits as recession swept the world in 2009.
But he vowed the he would staunch the flow of red ink and get the budget balanced by the next election in 2015.
His last budget, delivered shortly before his resignation, put him within easy reach of balance. But he died before the budget could turn to surplus.