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It was one of the largest-ever assemblages of Canada's powerful in one place.

There was the entire federal cabinet and Ontario legislature, mayors and former prime ministers. There were international dignitaries, businessmen and viceroys.

These 1,800 mourners packed St. James, Toronto's Gothic Revival Anglican cathedral, spilling into an overflow room and two tents outside for Jim Flaherty's state funeral.

It was all a testament to the mark Mr. Flaherty left in his two decades of politics – first as Mike Harris's scrappy lieutenant in Ontario's government-shrinking Common Sense Revolution, and later as the long-serving federal finance minister who steered the country through the worst economic downturn in decades and helped the Conservative Party return to a dominant place in Canadian politics.

Despite his toughness, Mr. Flaherty showed the party how to mix compassion and practicality with conservative ideals, said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a fellow stalwart of Stephen Harper's cabinet.

During the Great Recession, for instance, the famously austere Mr. Flaherty skillfully cribbed from the Keynesian playbook to prime the economic pump with deficit-inducing infrastructure spending. And he worked hard to help differently abled people, setting up a community centre in his hometown of Whitby.

"He was 100 per cent a fiscal conservative, but he was a pragmatist at the same time," Mr. Kenney said. "And, equally, he showed that you can be a fiscal conservative ... with a heart, which he showed with respect to differently abled people."

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, a family friend of Mr. Flaherty – who choked up last year when asked to comment publicly on Mr. Ford's drug and alcohol use – appeared too emotional for words as he arrived at the funeral. "It's a very sad day," he said as he walked to the cathedral with his wife, Renata.

"He was the epitome of public service," John Tory, the former Ontario Progressive Conservative leader and Toronto mayoral hopeful, told reporters on his way in. "He always had time to work with other people and the time to care about other people."

Mr. Flaherty's political opponents came in droves, too, including Ontario's Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and her cabinet. Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa – who butted heads with Mr. Flaherty over everything from transit taxes to pension reform – said that in private, he and Mr. Flaherty enjoyed a much warmer relationship than their respective political rhetoric would suggest. They often spoke on the phone or visited one another, he said.

"He was always very gracious," Mr. Sousa said. "One of the things that I most admired and respected about Mr. Flaherty was his determination to find, where possible, some common ground."

Business figures including Paul Desmarais Jr. and Peter Munk also attended, as did Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

Former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and John Turner were there, as were Governor-General David Johnston, Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley and former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson.

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