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.”
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