By Louise Egan and Randall Palmer
OTTAWA, March 18 Canada's Jim Flaherty, the
long-serving Conservative finance minister who helped steer the
economy through the global financial crisis, resigned from
politics on Tuesday, leaving the country on track to balance its
books by 2015.
Flaherty, 64, ends the third-longest stint as finance
minister in the country's history. He has been suffering acutely
from a rare skin disease, though he denied his resignation had
anything to do with health.
Analysts said Canada's Conservative government was likely to
stick with the plan to balance the budget in 2015, leaving
Flaherty's successor to decide what to do with the surpluses
projected for coming years.
Flaherty is an outspoken man who was quick on his feet in
parliamentary debates and was equally comfortable picking a
fight or cracking a joke, and he has been at the side of Prime
Minister Stephen Harper ever since the Conservatives took power
in 2006. He cut business and sales taxes and then put through a
record deficit in nominal dollar terms to counter the recession.
Amid speculation he might step aside to attend to his
health, Flaherty stubbornly and repeatedly vowed to stay on the
job until the budget was balanced. The budget plan he presented
last month shows that will be achieved next year.
"Yesterday, I informed the Prime Minister that I am
resigning from Cabinet. This was a decision I made with my
family earlier this year, as I will be returning to the private
sector," he said in a statement accompanied by a picture of him
standing at an office door waving goodbye.
Harper said he would announce Flaherty's replacement in
coming days. Leading contenders are believed to be Industry
Minister James Moore, Treasury Board President Tony Clement,
Foreign Minister John Baird, and Employment Minister Jason
There were hints in recent months that Flaherty was eyeing
the door. He began to stray from the Conservative Party script
in his public comments, most recently initiating a high-profile
disagreement with Harper over tax cuts the prime minister had
promised in the 2011 election campaign.
At a press conference following a meeting of G20 finance
ministers in Sydney, Australia, he appeared disengaged from the
broader international agenda and focused solely on Canadian
Harper said he accepted Flaherty's resignation "with great
reluctance" and praised him for having a steady hand throughout
Financial markets took the news in stride, as few expect any
significant shift in fiscal policy by his successor.
"We know nothing that would suggest that there's any schism
between himself and anybody else in the party on policy, so I
would say that this is not policy related," said Mark Chandler,
economist at the Royal Bank of Canada.
Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets,
said Flaherty's exit was expected, though not this soon.
Flaherty kept a grueling schedule prior to 2013,
crisscrossing the country and traveling abroad to promote the
government's agenda and speaking to reporters once a week or
He revealed a year ago that he is battling a rare skin
disease that causes painful blisters on the body. The condition
is incurable but can be managed with powerful medication that
has unpleasant side effects, including weight gain and mood
He has dramatically scaled back his activities and often
appeared red-faced and short of breath, walking very gingerly
and wincing occasionally. During travel, his staff went to great
lengths to minimize his walking and avoid stairs.
But he was uncomfortable talking about the issue, according
to sources close to him, and on Tuesday denied that his health
played a role in his resignation.
"I am happy to report that I am on the road to a full
recovery and the decision to leave politics was not related in
any way to my health," Flaherty said.
"This decision was made because it is the right one for me
and my family at this time."