Jim Flaherty changed many things – including our money. Here is he is introducing new polymer banknotes in 2012.
The unexpected passing of the former finance minister united a place known more for partisan division and bickering.
There’s no shortage of columns how MP’s from all political stripes came together to mourn a death in the family (this one is by far the best I’ve read). The flag above the Peace Tower was lowered.
So with that, I’ll share some of my own thoughts here:
I’ve covered every single budget Jim Flaherty delivered as Federal Finance Minister, including his first one in 2006. Throughout the years we got to know each other - we weren’t best pals, but we shared a Queens Park connection and had coffee a few times. Flaherty was a charming, friendly and genuine man. He was proud of his Irish roots. He joked about his links to the “Ferocious O’Flaherty’s” known as notorious pirates who terrorized communities in the 1300′s.
He loved talking politics. He loved dissecting political strategy. And make no mistake, he could be hyper partisan. But he was also a pragmatist.
When he pumped billions of taxpayers money into a stimulus program, and drove up the deficit during the great recession of 2008, he admitted it was against his conservative instincts, but he did it because he believed it was the best option to avoid economic calamity.
He also championed programs for those with disabilities. And it was personal. One of his sons has a disability. So every budget had something set aside to help.
But when Flaherty’s health took a dramatic turn last year (I wrote about it back then), the countdown began when he would leave his stressful and demanding portfolio. And in the months leading up to his resignation from Cabinet, it was clear his passion for the job was fading. Still, every time I saw him – despite his obvious deteriorating physical condition - he maintained a pleasant and friendly demeanour. Always happy to stop and chat.
All these thoughts raced through my mind as I stood outside his Ottawa condominium tower on this windy afternoon, knowing he had died in his 7th floor apartment earlier that day.
So I began thinking of my fondest memory of Jim Flaherty. It was at a cocktail party after Budget 2012, the year Flaherty announced he would eliminate the penny to save taxpayers money. His department gave him a pair of cufflinks with pennies on them to wear when he delivered the budget. And he did.
That evening, Flaherty gave them to me. For no special reason. As a rule of principle, I refused them because I don’t accept gifts from politicians … but he insisted. So I told him I would return the cufflinks when he retired from politics.
Sadly, I never had the chance.