(Adds tributes at start of G20 meeting, G7 statement)
By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA, April 10 Former Finance Minister Jim
Flaherty, who steered Canada through the global financial crisis
and then nearly eliminated the huge budget deficits he had run
up in the process, died on Thursday just weeks after resigning.
His family said he passed away peacefully in Ottawa, but did
not give a cause of death. An unnamed source close to the family
told CBC television that Flaherty had suffered a massive heart
attack. He was 64.
Canada's federal and provincial legislatures, where Flaherty
had served, suspended their sessions. The flag flew at half-mast
over Parliament in the capital, Ottawa.
"Today is a very sad day for me, for our government and for
all of our country," Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his voice
quaking, said of the friend who had stood at his side since the
Conservatives took power in 2006.
"Jim will be sorely missed, not only by his friends on both
sides of the House ... but he will also be missed by the
countless thousands of Canadians that he devoted himself to and
whom he helped during his long and successful career in public
Finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the Group of
20 leading economies started their meeting in Washington by
paying tribute to Flaherty, an outspoken member of the group who
was not shy about criticizing policies if he disagreed with
The smaller Group of Seven major economies said in a
statement that their members "were greatly saddened" by
Flaherty's passing. Flaherty was the doyen of the G7 when he
Federal opposition New Democratic Party leader Thomas
Mulcair choked back tears as he told reporters outside the House
of Commons: "Jim Flaherty was an extremely dedicated public
servant, and he will greatly missed by all of us."
Flaherty had been suffering acutely from a rare skin
disease, but at the time of his resignation in March, he said
that his decision had nothing to do with his health.
SOUND BUDGETS AND COMPASSION
Flaherty was Canada's third-longest-serving finance
minister. A tax-cutting Conservative, he left the government on
track to balance its books by 2015 after running up the largest
deficit in history in nominal terms in the fight against the
He also intervened several times to cool Canada's booming
housing market, hoping to avoid a bubble that could burst and
provoke another recession.
"He's remembered as one of the longer serving - and, I would
argue, one of the better - finance ministers we've had," said
Royal Bank of Canada chief economist Craig Wright. "He had a
very important portfolio through very uncertain times, and I
think, with the clarity of hindsight, he did a phenomenal job in
The father of triplets, one of whom is disabled, Flaherty
also ushered in tax-sheltered Registered Disability Savings
Plans for those with disabilities.
He was replaced on March 19 by then-Natural Resources
Minister Joe Oliver, who is currently in Washington.
Flaherty had planned to take some time off after the
grueling schedule required of a Group of Seven finance minister,
and was expected to eventually take a role in the private
Flaherty had also stood by family friend, Toronto Mayor Rob
Ford, long after many politicians had deserted Ford after he
admitted smoking crack.
"Devastated to hear news of my friend Jim Flaherty passing,"
Ford tweeted. "The Ford family is heart broken."
Australian Finance Mininster and G20 Chair Joe Hockey kicked
off the G20 meeting by announcing Flaherty's death and calling
on Canadian policymakers to say a few words.
It was an unexpected G20 debut for Oliver, less than a month
in his new role, as he eulogized his predecessor and described
him as "the guiding force of 10 federal budgets" and one of
Canada's great statesmen.
Mark Carney, the Bank of England chief who worked closely
with Flaherty for a decade at the Canadian finance ministry and
later at the central bank, said Flaherty had an enormous
influence on him personally and globally when the G20 rose to
prominence in 2008 and at other key moments of the financial
crisis in 2009 and 2010.
"This is a man who was a true believer in multilateralism.
They way he went about it was direct. He led, he cajoled, he
urged members around the table to pursue the right policies ...
he wouldn't settle for anything less," Carney said.
"I know a number of us will miss him. I will miss him
Stephen Poloz, whom Flaherty appointed as governor of the
Bank of Canada, said Flaherty left "an important legacy of
fiscal responsibility and public service, and I admired him
(Additional reporting by Leah Schnurr and Cameron French in
Toronto, Louise Egan in Washington; Editing by G Crosse, Jeffrey
Hodgson, Mohammad Zargham, Peter Galloway and Jan Paschal)