He was, in a sense, packing up his political life.
Jim Flaherty’s first move was resigning as finance minister last month. His second – stepping down as an Ontario MP and joining a private equity firm, as friends say he had planned – would never come. Mr. Flaherty died at his Ottawa condo Thursday afternoon.
Justice Minister Peter MacKay got word shortly before Question Period, and told some of his fellow MPs. “It was as if all the air left the room,” he said. “There was heartbreak on the Hill.”
When Mr. Flaherty resigned his cabinet post in mid-March, there was much speculation his health was a factor. He revealed to The Globe and Mail in 2013 that he had a rare skin disease requiring strong steroid treatment. Though he made a point in his farewell statement of ruling out his health as the catalyst for his departure, The Globe learned his family had pressed him over the Christmas holidays to step down amid concerns over his well-being.
Some of Mr. Flaherty’s colleagues lately thought he was run-down and exhausted, but still, those who spoke with him recently didn’t see his health as an obstacle. In fact, he had been fielding private-sector job offers and spending time in Florida. Just Tuesday night, when he bumped into Conservative Senator Don Meredith in Ottawa’s ByWard Market, he said, “Don, life is good.”
And Wednesday, on the eve of his death, he dined in the market area with Minister of Labour Kellie Leitch, a doctor who considered Mr. Flaherty her “champion” and long-time mentor. “He was in fine form,” she recalled, adding that at the height of his skin disease troubles she helped him in caucus and had politely encouraged him to take some downtime. “He was actually in really good cheer and enjoying life.”
Ms. Leitch said she knew he was feeling well because he was “poking fun” at her.
Just a few weeks before, Mr. Flaherty spoke by phone with former Quebec premier Jean Charest about the prospect of joining Mr. Charest’s Montreal law firm, McCarthy Tétrault. There was nothing that led Mr. Charest to believe the 64-year-old politician had any major health problems.
“He was in very good spirits,” Mr. Charest said. “He seemed very much at peace with his decision to move on [from politics] … He was open to the idea of working with our firm.”
A source says Mr. Flaherty had lined up a job with a private equity firm, which was to be the mainstay of his employment, but noted he was open to rounding out his post-political career with a position at a legal firm or on a corporate board.
An imminent move back to the Greater Toronto Area to be with his family would have meant a goodbye to his Ottawa circle, including friend and hairstylist Stefania Capovilla. Mr. Flaherty had frequently sat in Ms. Capovilla’s salon chair for trims, including his traditional budget-day haircut.
He was there just last week, with Ms. Capovilla’s new kitten, Miles, watching on as she clipped his hair. Mr. Flaherty talked about his pets (several cats and a dog named Guinness). When she spoke of Mr. Flaherty and their time together at the salon last Tuesday, she struggled to find the words.
“It’s very surreal,” she said. “I don’t … I still don’t believe it. It’s hard to … I can’t imagine how his family must feel. Nobody really could’ve predicted this.”
With reports from Ingrid Peritz in Montreal and Bill Curry, Kim Mackrael and Josh Wingrove in Ottawa.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article said incorrectly that Labour Minister Kellie Leitch learned of Jim Flaherty’s death as she was leaving a cabinet meeting the next day. In fact, Dr. Leitch is said to have administered CPR to her friend after his apparent heart attack Thursday.