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The Globe and Mail

Ex-minister on Flaherty: ‘He had given too much’

Finance Minister Joe Oliver waits inside the church at the state funeral for the late Jim Flaherty in Toronto on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.


Jay Hill hated to see his friend, Jim Flaherty, like this – emotionally, physically, intellectually and psychologically spent.

The two men – close friends from having served in Stephen Harper's cabinet together – met on April 1 in Ottawa at a downtown restaurant for dinner. They talked for three hours.

"He was so stoic," Mr. Hill, who left politics in 2010 and is a businessman in Calgary, recalled Wednesday as he prepared to attend the state funeral of his old friend and political ally. He asked Mr. Flaherty about his health that night – he was suffering from a painful skin disease - and was given the answer that he gave everyone - "I'm fine. I'm on the mend. It's getting better."

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But Mr. Hill wasn't fooled. "On all levels it just seemed to me he had given it all and he had given too much. … He was just exhausted in all ways."

The former finance minister died last Thursday in Ottawa from an apparent heart attack, only several weeks after he announced he was stepping down as finance minister. He was 64 years old.

Read our recap of the funeral for former finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Hundreds people attended the service at St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto – many wearing green scarves in tribute to Mr. Flaherty, who was never without his signature green tie. Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a moving and powerful tribute. Mr. Flaherty's wife, Christine Elliott, an Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP, and his sons also gave remarks.

Among the dignitaries, including Governor-General David Johnston, former prime minister Brian Mulroney and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England and former Bank of Canada governor – are many of Mr. Flaherty's cabinet and caucus colleagues.

James Rajotte, the long-time Alberta MP, who as chair of the House Finance Committee, worked on six budgets with Mr. Flaherty, is among the mourners.

For him, Mr. Flaherty was a generous colleague and a good listener. He always spoke last in meetings, not wanting participants to tell him what he wanted to hear, noted Mr. Rajotte.

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"He was really regarded as one of the titans of the caucus," he said.

But Mr. Rajotte also remembers Mr. Flaherty as a good friend.

Like Mr. Hill, Mr. Rajotte was one of six politicians who Mr. Flaherty invited on his golf trips to Ireland. Proud of his Irish roots, Mr. Flaherty first organized the trip in 2011, inviting along five other politicians and six of his close friends from Whitby and Toronto.

"It was really his trip and he spent a lot of time planning it every year," said Mr. Rajotte about the August trip. "He loved it."

Mr. Hill nicknamed the politicians the "takers" and the Flaherty friends were called "the givers." Divided into three foursomes, the 12 men would play a different course in Ireland during the week. They hired a driver to ferry them around from course to course – it meant they could have a Guinness or whisky after their round.

This week the driver, having heard about Mr. Flaherty's death, sent Mr. Rajotte a heartfelt note.

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On the 2012 trip, Mr. Rajotte recalls a conversation about Mr. Flaherty's future – speaking to Mr. Flaherty about his health and years in public service.

"He gave 20 years to public life. Even the guys on the trip were telling him, 'Jim, we love you being in public life but we want you to have a nice life after with Christine and the boys [the couple have triplet sons],'" said Mr. Rajotte.

They had hoped to go to Ireland again this summer for their fourth trip (Mr. Flaherty missed last year's trip because of G20 meetings.)

Last night, Mr. Hill organized a wake for Mr. Flaherty at a private residence in Toronto where they toasted their old friend - and lamented his unfinished life.

Since hearing about Mr. Flaherty's death – the two were to meet later on that day in Toronto for a drink before a gala dinner – Mr. Hill's emotions have swung between deepest sorrow and anger.

"Sorrow, obviously, because the grieving has started but the anger, the unfairness of it," said Mr. Hill. "He just didn't get the chance to enjoy the fruits of all those years of labour, public service that everyone in Canada, regardless of their political stripe, would say he deserved."

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