Little did we know that we would be here today, with that future torn from him, and for us to deliver more profound reflections.
This has been a traumatic event for many of us, but, of course, none more so than Jim’s family ...
… Quinn, Galen, John, and especially Christine, we have lost a partner in politics, but you have lost a partner in life.
The turnout these past couple of days may be of small consolation, but it is the tip of the iceberg in an ocean of deep admiration and affection for Jim, and of much goodwill, kind thoughts and many prayers for you.
Please, take that to heart and God bless you.
For, I say, we have all lost a remarkable figure.
There are so many ways I could describe The Honourable Jim Flaherty.
He was a man who highly principled and ruthlessly pragmatic, combative but engaging, smart and educated, while never assuming that he knew it all.
He could be hard-headed, yet also soft-hearted.
He could display a quick and biting temper, but, far more often, a deep and gentle sense of humour.
He particularly enjoyed – and delivered – many jokes about his own shortness.
He quipped that he never got in the way of his own power points, but, short as he was, upon the world stage he strode like a giant.
I do not say these things to imply that Jim was a contradictory person.
He was not in any way.
As a human being he was the complete package.
And, I am sure, these last few days, he has been genuinely enjoying all the tributes and some of them he even believes.
But, in all seriousness, it is a fact that Jim, as fiercely partisan as he was – and he was -- was also genuinely liked and respected by his opponents, liked by his enemies.
That’s something in this business, something I envy - I can’t even get my friends to like me.
There has been much talk about Jim’s record and legacy, especially the softer side of that record.
Jim was not much for handouts.
But, as a true conservative, he believed in helping people who could not help themselves, or who had suffered misfortune.
And he especially believed in a hand up for those who needed, but only lacked, an opportunity, which is why he had a particular passion for, among others, the disabled.
I believe no single politician in the life of this country has done more for the disabled and their families than Jim Flaherty.
I could point to numerous initiatives, but Jim was most proud of his role in building the Durham Abilities Centre, dismissed by some at the time as a pork-barrel project, but now recognized as a tremendous regional institution and monument to a noble and truly passionately believed cause.
However, when all is said and done, Jim’s most important contribution to our country, without doubt, came by virtue of his long service as Minister of Finance, especially by virtue of being Minister of Finance during and after the great global recession of 2008-2009.
I ask you to indulge me for a few moments to talk about that role, because we are talking about Jim making history, and I had the ultimate, front-row seat.
It began back in the fall of 2005.
Mutual friends told me that Jim Flaherty wanted to come to see me to talk about his political future.
I had met Jim many times, but knew him really only through the strong, positive, testimony of others.
We had lunch in my office.
Jim told me he wanted a change and was interested in federal politics, but was a bit sheepish about the fact he had not supported my leadership campaign.
I told him that meant nothing now, because I believed there would be a federal election soon and that, contrary to most, I thought it more likely than not that we would win.
I also thought we badly needed someone with his abilities and experience.
Of course, I had Finance in mind from the beginning, but Jim was actually, somewhat surprised, somewhat reticent about the portfolio at first.
Though, it’s safe to say, it wasn’t long before he decided he would never let go of it.
The relationship between a Prime Minister and his Finance Minister is always a special one.
But this, I can tell you, was more special than most.
Despite our very different educational backgrounds and life experiences, Jim and I were philosophically in sync on just about everything.
But, on the specifics of the many and complex priorities before us, we often had, at least initially, different views.
Now, we WASPs sometimes define an Irishman as someone, “who may not know where he stands, but he’s always prepared to fight for it.”
Well, no one could ever accuse Jim Flaherty of not having an opinion, and he certainly was always prepared to fight for it.
As we talked through budget planning meetings, our divergences always narrowed and usually vanished.
When they didn’t, occasionally, I imposed a final decision.
Occasionally, I decided he was probably right.
And occasionally, I decided he was wrong but let him have his way, but I just got so damned tired of arguing with him.
By November 2008, Jim and I had both concluded, not easily and certainly not what would have been expected, that the calamity befalling the global economic and financial system meant, among others things, that we had to run a deficit.
That is, not merely allow a modest deficit, but deliberately engineer as large a deficit as could be reasonably run, as a response to a collapsing marketplace.
So this, Jim did.
Canada announced one of the world’s larger stimulus packages and he engineered the money out the door far more rapidly than most.
This people remember well.
What they remember less well is that that was not all there was to it.
Jim knew that, in the past, even modest, short-term deficit spending had resulted in severe, long-term fiscal problems.
So, even as he pushed out stimulus spending, he made changes in longer-term expenditure policies that would reduce their growth path.
And then, there was what Jim did not do.
He did not use the crisis to build new bureaucracies, to create permanent new programs, to recklessly enhance entitlements or to reverse any tax cut that had been legislated.
He took other actions in housing and banking to ensure even greater long-term stability in our financial system.
And he put constraints on any excessive experimentations in monetary policy.
The result is this.
While, at one time, Canada was no better than middle of the pack, today in an uncertain world, Canada will have a balanced budget years ahead of others, with low debt and low taxes, and is recognized to be the best managed major developed economy.
That, my friends, is Jim Flaherty’s legacy for this country.
It was something to see, up close.
A couple of years back, in Jim’s presence, a colleague tried to put me on the spot by saying, “Prime Minister, I think Jim Flaherty is the best Finance Minister in the world; do you think Jim Flaherty is the best Finance Minister in the world?”
Always being reluctant to shell out too much praise, and not wanting at the same time to disappoint Jim, I thought about it and found a line that met both our approvals.
I said, “Minister, I don’t know for sure in absolute terms if Jim is the best Finance Minister in the world, but he is without a doubt the best Finance Minister per inch in the world.”
But, friends, there is a back story to all of this.
As early as 2010, Jim said to me: “Prime Minister, I want to step down as Finance Minister and I don’t want to run again. I’ve been in public life for 15 years now. I want to go into the private sector, so that I can make some money and put more aside for my family. But,” he added, “I won’t do it unless I think we’re out of the woods and the job of getting back into balance is done.”
And every year after that, without any prompting from me, the call would come and Jim would say, “Prime Minister, I’m still worried about the global economy and we’re not yet in balance. I want to do one more budget.”
And so he did year after year, work away on the next phase of the Economic Action Plan, even as, in the past couple of years, it became more and more difficult for him, and sometimes hard to watch, as everyone of you could plainly see.
Yet, let me tell you, when it mattered Jim was always up to it.
He always came to our budget meetings prepared, ready to play the game, always willing to mix it up in the corners.
And in the process, year after year, he deliberately set his own plans aside and put off his goals for his family.
Because, at heart, Jim wasn’t in this, as is the stereotype, for money or for power.
Jim was driven by conviction, of loyalty to the cause and of duty to the country.
He believed he had taken on a responsibility for all of our families, not just his own and he was prepared to make sacrifices ultimately, although he did not know it, to sacrifice himself.
This year, when I looked at the state of the markets and the numbers in the budget, I knew that, when Jim’s call came, it would be different.
And so, a few weeks ago in my office, I accepted his resignation and I told Jim the following:
I told Jim that the meeting back in 2005 had been one of the best decisions of my political career, one of the most important for this government, and one of the most meaningful ever for our country.
That he had done a great job, accomplished what he set out to do, and that I understood and appreciated the sacrifice that it had entailed.
And I told Jim that he had truly been over these eight years, in my judgement, the best Finance Minister in the world, if not indeed, the best in our history.
I also wished him well in his next career and told him not to be a stranger.
Friends, I admit to you that I do not grieve for Jim.
I know that for Jim, the Lord has prepared a place where he can be free from the afflictions of recent times and in joy.
No, my friends, when a good one leaves, grief is for those who are left behind.
So, one more word for those, specifically for John and Galen and Quinn, “the boys,” as your father always called you.
Let me just say this.
I lost my own father almost exactly to the day, 11 years ago.
From that period, I remember almost nothing of what I said or what was said to me, so powerful were the waves of emotion.
But once that passed, and perspective took hold, I came to appreciate my father’s place in my life, probably even more fully and deeply than if he were still here.
And it is all good. And it will be for you.
You are no longer “the boys”.
You are young men.
Hold on to your mother, hold on to your father’s lessons, and hold to the knowledge that there are many present and beyond who are there for you and will be there for you as you continue on your own journeys.
And, I say once again, from Laureen and my family and from all my colleagues, God bless you, the family, and farewell to our friend, Jim.
On behalf of a grateful country, we thank you.Report Typo/Error
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