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Jim Flaherty (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Jim Flaherty (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

Lunch with Jim Flaherty Add to ...

"And you see a lot of people buying these houses, huge houses they don't need. Everyone wants instant gratification, you have to have everything your parents had right away."

His fears about housing-related debt levels hit a peak at the start of this year, causing him to tighten the rules again in January.

"In the condo market in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, we were seeing a fair amount of speculation," he says. "And the developers helped me with that, the economists helped me, and the banks helped me, because they finance a lot of these developments and some of the CEOs would tell me from time to time - even though they're lending money - that it was starting to concern them."

While the crisis might have peaked, that's not to say there's no more drama. Just a few weeks ago, the finance ministers and central bankers of the G7, which Canada chaired last year, decided to intervene in currency markets to weaken the surging Japanese yen.

But the bonds that were built among the G7 and G20 finance ministers by collaboratively battling the global meltdown are loosening now that the worst appears to be over. "The unity starts to stretch a bit because there is less of a crisis situation now and so, like everything else, there are some people going off in their own directions and somewhat more discord," Mr. Flaherty says.

Back on home turf, he's carrying three BlackBerrys, partly to parcel off all expenses related to his campaign. But during election periods he spends more time in Whitby, where he and his wife Christine Elliott, the Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP in the same riding, have a farmhouse.

He still keeps up his workouts, which he normally does in Ottawa at the MPs' gym. It's one of his favourite spots to do business.

"They say we never work with the minority; I've made some good arrangements in that gym in the last five years with [Gilles]Duceppe, Jack [Layton] on the elliptical machines and that," he says. "How serious can people be when people walk around in shorts and T-shirts? It's not like being in the House. So that's a good place to talk."

At Bella Notte, despite all the calories he's expending going door-to-door, he's still mindful of carbs - passing up the pastas and paninis on offer for golden beet soup with a giant scallop and a bowl of mussels.

This may be his seventh campaign in the riding, but he has tasted defeat. His first attempt to enter the fray of provincial politics in 1990 was a failure. Five years later, he succeeded and became a key figure in the Mike Harris government. After losing two bids to lead Ontario's Progressive Conservatives to Ernie Eves and John Tory respectively, Mr. Flaherty found himself making a phone call to Stephen Harper, then federal leader-of-the-opposition. Mr. Flaherty told his acquaintance he was worried the federal party might be drifting. So the two of them sat down to a lunch in Ottawa.

"I was satisfied at having listened to him one-on-one that he had a plan, so I was good with that, but he suggested that I might want to run federally," Mr. Flaherty says. "So I went away thinking about that, rather than worried about him not having a plan."

Mr. Flaherty became Finance Minster in February, 2006. Less than nine months later, on Oct. 31, he shocked the business community by deciding to effectively kill income trusts - a Halloween surprise that left many investors thinking he was a monster.

It's a decision that he stands by to this day, even though he knows it probably led to a view on Bay Street that he was erratic - an impression that he thinks he's since overcome. He rhymes off a list of major decisions that have been made in the interim, including corporate tax reductions, tax-free savings accounts and registered disability savings accounts.

As we sip espresso, Mr. Flaherty is thinking of the evening event that Mr. Harper is coming to Ajax for, which Mr. Flaherty will MC. He's still got a few hours of canvassing before then.

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