Doug Finley was known as an attack dog in federal politics – a man who relished the blood sport of the election game and played it better than almost everyone else.
Mr. Finley, who died Saturday at the age of 66 after a long and public battle with cancer, was also a warm, gregarious and engaging Scot whose blunt nature did not overshadow his warmth and wit.
He was a senator and the husband of Human Resources Minister Diane Finley. But he was best known as the man who engineered a breakthrough for the newly formed federal Conservative Party in Ontario in 2004 and who took the party to victory in 2006 and then again in 2008 as the national campaign director.
Mr. Finley revelled in political combat. When, in the summer of 2010, Liberal senators stripped some contentious clauses out of an omnibus Conservative budget bill, he was quick to threaten that an election could follow with the words: “Let’s dance.”
He was also a man who occasionally provoked controversy.
In 2008, he unexpectedly showed up at a Commons committee that was investigating the so-called “in and out” spending infractions of the Conservatives in the 2006 election and found himself ejected by House security guards. Mr. Finley was charged in the spending case with “willfully” exceeding spending limits, but the charges were dropped after a plea deal between prosecutors and the party.
He liked a drink and a smoke and a game of soccer. He was also a consummate strategist, a student of history, and someone who was deeply committed to Canada.
And he did not equivocate about his disease. “It’s not going to be pretty and I’m not looking forward to it. I don’t make any bones about that. Like a lot of people, I’m not scared of dying, I’m more concerned about the process of dying,” he said in an interview in November with the news website iPolitics.
Mr. Finley was born in Exeter in England then moved to Scotland at a young age because his parents wanted to ensure that he was “raised properly.”
He immigrated to Canada in the late 1960s and became a senior executive at Rolls-Royce in Montreal, followed by a term as president of Standard Aero, then senior vice-president of AvCorp Industries, and then general manager of a flower grower in Southwestern Ontario.
But it was in politics that he made his mark, becoming a central backroom figure in the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Mr. Harper said in a statement that he has lost a trusted adviser and strategist as well as a dear and valued friend. Mr. Finley “expressed the love he felt for his adopted country through his work in the democratic process,” said the Prime Minister. “Here, his skills, style and passion were legend.”
Indeed, he turned up to work at the Senate last week looking frail but still feisty and spoke on Wednesday to praise a bill on transboundary waters.
“He was such a fighter,” Marjory LeBreton, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, said Sunday. “He had that gruff, gruff Scot side, but he had a real soft side of him.”
Mr. Finley’s marriage lasted more than 30 years and friends of the couple say they were deeply in love to the end. They have a daughter, Siobhan, and three grandchildren.
“Doug fought a hard and very public battle with cancer. His death is a loss to our family, our friends – and to the entire country,” Ms. Finley said in a statement, asking for privacy as her family prepares “to formally bid farewell to a great man.”