Jim Flaherty, who was then Canada’s finance minister, speaks at the annual Cardinal’s Dinner in Toronto in 2007 as Cardinal Thomas Collins looks on. Mr. Flaherty died April 10. Photo courtesy of the Archdiocese of Toronto

Flaherty’s Catholic heritage shaped his political thinking

  • April 16, 2014

OTTAWA - Jim Flaherty was buried out of Toronto’s Anglican St. James Cathedral in a state funeral on April 16 but the political life of the former Finance Minister was shaped by his Catholic upbringing, said former colleagues.

“His Catholic identity shaped his thinking about politics and economics,” said Mark Cameron, who worked with Mr. Flaherty on two provincial leadership campaigns and later as a senior policy advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Mr. Flaherty, 64, died of an apparent heart attack at his Ottawa home on April 10, just three weeks after he had resigned his cabinet portfolio. Although in later life he attended the church of his second wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, Mr. Flaherty was proud of his Catholic heritage, Cameron said.

“He was certainly interested in the relationship of faith to politics and economics,” Cameron said.

Cardus president Michael Van Pelt recalled a time when Mr. Flaherty spoke at a Cardus event in 2005 on faith. In his talk, he mentioned both Pope Leo XIII and Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper.

“Show me a cabinet minister who can do that!” Van Pelt said.

Van Pelt described Mr. Flaherty as someone who saw “public service as an honourable task and he had the gifts to do it.”

Mr. Flaherty was a practical man who “developed ideas about how this could be a better country,” he said. “That’s what he talked about, that’s what he lived around. The foundations of that were much more assumed.”

Mr. Flaherty grew up in Lachine, outside of Montreal, and attended Loyola High School, a private Jesuit-run school. He attended Princeton on a hockey scholarship and became a lawyer before first entering Ontario provincial politics. He was one of Canada’s longest serving finance ministers, and navigated the economy through the 2008 worldwide financial crisis.

“We join in offering our thoughts and prayers for the loved ones of Jim Flaherty,” said Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins in a statement. “A public servant who gave of his time and talents to serve the country through the noble vocation of elected office, he served our province and country faithfully for many years.

“We give thanks for his tangible efforts to strengthen our community. May he rest in peace.”

The Cardinal, who attended the state funeral, knew Mr. Flaherty in a professional capacity. Mr. Flaherty would often attend the annual Cardinal’s Dinner and he went to Rome when Collins was elevated to the College of Cardinals.

The father of triplet boys, Mr. Flaherty’s concern for the disabled sprang from his own experience of having a disabled child, Cameron said. Among his contributions is the Registered Disability Savings Plan.

“I think he was at his heart a very good man,” said Cameron. “He very deeply loved people, and cared particularly about people with disabilities.”

Mr. Flaherty was very open to Catholic and evangelical voices. He met with different groups many times, whether over charitable tax credits, or housing programs sponsored by churches, Cameron said.

“He was interested in trying to figure out how faith and economics and public life interrelated.

“He was very concerned about peoples’ families and their personal lives. He took a real interest in his staffers and the people he came across,” Cameron said.

In one of many moving tributes in the House of Commons, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who once studied to become an Anglican minister, spoke of Mr. Flaherty’s faith.

“Forgive me if I recognize that Jim Flaherty was a man of faith,” she said. “For those who are of no faith, please forgive me if I reflect on the fact that we . . . enter into the . . . the most sacred portion of the Christian calendar — where we go through Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, and ultimately recognize that Jesus Christ broke the bonds of death and we celebrate resurrection. I hope that those moments will give some comfort to Jim and his family.”

May then added, “those of us of faith know that he is in, as they say, a better place, the best place.”

Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes said Mr. Flaherty was very supportive of the pro-life cause early in his career as an Ontario politician.

“He was very strong in the beginning,” Hughes said. “Gradually he drifted, a mixed bag.”

Mr. Flaherty was always open to meeting with pro-life groups, but “as he got older he became more pragmatic in terms of his politics,” Hughes said.

“He was a solid Canadian and he was highly competent,” Hughes said. “I think he did a fine job as finance minister. I believe he was concerned about people.”

News reached Parliament Hill of Mr. Flaherty’s death as Question Period was about to begin April 10. The Speaker suspended House of Commons business for the rest of the day. MPs convened the next day for a time of tribute, then adjourned for a two-week Easter break.

Former Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale spoke to journalists of “the profound sense of loss” that affected everyone on Parliament Hill.

“It’s ironic that the news was spread just in the time that we’re about to begin the most intensive partisan period in the day with Question Period and it’s pretty much a bare-knuckle no-holds barred time in the political cycle and just when that would normally be taking place, the sad news arrived and I think it brought people together in a remarkable way,” Goodale said.

“There was an outpouring of affection and respect and love and good will. Certainly great sympathy for Christine and the family.”

Goodale said Mr. Flaherty held “the toughest job in cabinet for eight years.”

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