Jim Flaherty will be paid tribute in a state funeral, a rare honour afforded to the former finance minister whose sudden death shook Canadian politics this week.
The service is scheduled for Wednesday in Toronto – only Canada’s third state funeral for someone who wasn’t a prime minister, governor-general or sitting cabinet minister. The announcement came Friday as Ottawa continued to mourn the loss of a prominent Conservative MP hailed as much for his character as his performance as minister.
Regular House of Commons business was pushed aside to accommodate tributes, including one by Mr. Flaherty’s long-time friend and political protégé, Labour Minister Kellie Leitch. The physician owns a condo in the same complex as Mr. Flaherty, and is said to have administered CPR to her friend after his apparent heart attack there Thursday.
“The deep sense of shock and loss we all felt at Jim’s passing yesterday tells us how much of a part of all of our lives he had become,” Dr. Leitch said in an emotional statement, fighting back tears. “… He reached out across Canada, across party lines, across business and labour divides to seek consensus and advance fairness – something I hope to emulate during my time in public service. I know no one who expresses that more than Jim Flaherty.”
In Toronto, near Mr. Flaherty’s home in the suburb of Whitby, the CN Tower was set to be lit in green Friday evening as a tribute to Mr. Flaherty’s Irish heritage, while in Ottawa the flag over the Peace Tower continued to fly at half-mast.
Mr. Flaherty is being remembered as a quick wit who was admired on both sides of the aisle. He’s also remembered as a champion for Canadians with disabilities. “I know he touched a lot of people,” Government House Leader Peter Van Loan said.
Mr. Flaherty suffered a heart attack in his Ottawa condo on Thursday at the age of 64. He’d stepped down from cabinet only a few weeks earlier, planning to take a job in the private sector, but was still serving as an MP. He was without vital signs when emergency crews were called, and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Dr. Leitch was said to have provided first aid, but declined to detail her involvement Friday, saying only it was subject to physician-patient confidentiality but acknowledging she did see him Thursday. She’d dined with him the night before, and noticed no ill-effects. “He was actually a gregarious Irishman out having a hamburger, so he seemed to be in fine form. So this was all very sudden,” Dr. Leitch said.
That suddenness is of particular sorrow to those mourning Mr. Flaherty, who had been fielding calls about private-sector jobs but planned on spending the summer sailing, and spending time with his family.
“As much as anything else, it was the suddenness of it. I mean, Jim was really the heart of our party,” Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski said. “… You know, he called himself a leprechaun. Leprechauns aren’t supposed to die. And it’s tough, it’s tough.”
Arrangements are still being finalized, but a visitation is expected Tuesday before the funeral.
Though Mr. Flaherty left cabinet March 18, a Prime Minister can order a state funeral for “eminent Canadians.” It’s been done just twice previously – for Jack Layton in 2011 and Thomas D’Arcy McGee in 1868.
“Jim’s family and the country have lost a great man,” said Public Works Minister Diane Finley, whose husband – senator and Conservative campaign stalwart Doug Finley – died last year. “I’m sure that he and Doug will be working together on some campaign or another soon. That would be their definition of heaven.“