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Flaherty helped save the world from economic meltdown

Jim Flaherty in Ottawa on Feb. 11, 2014.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Twelve years ago, Kellie Leitch, now the federal Minister of Labour, and I shared one of the great joys of our political lives when we co-chaired Jim Flaherty's first run for leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.

In many ways, it was a campaign that should have never been. Ernie Eves was far and away the front-runner; only the deluded or the principled would ever dare to try.

Well, Jim turned out to be one of the principled ones. He knew not only of the nobility of public service, but the power of it as well. He had an idea that he could, given a chance, make an important difference.

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We believed him. We believed in him. And he believed in us.

We cobbled together a campaign organization – dubbed the Halloween Coalition for its mixture of social conservatives and gay libertarians and a few others thrown in for good measure. His campaign was described, using hockey language (Jim thought everything could be explained through hockey), as a miracle on ice.

It wasn't to be. Twice he tried and twice he lost and, as so often is the case in life, you win by losing.

Losing led him to become the 37th finance minister of Canada. And, in many ways, the extraordinary events of the great recession of 2008 led him to the most important contribution of his public service career – his careful stewardship of the Canadian economy through extraordinarily difficult times.

Much has been made of Jim's policy flexibility through this crisis but that was not his biggest contribution. I believe that history will show that Jim's role as a first among equals with his finance minister and central banker colleagues was his defining contribution. His clarity of mind, mastery of advocacy and Irish-Canadian charm combined to help save the world from an economic meltdown.

And for that, we will always be in his debt.

In his speech to the convention so long ago, when he came so close, so maddeningly close to winning, he closed with these words:

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"When I walk across the lawn of the legislature, I think to myself that when it comes to our turn to leave this place, if we can say that we helped our fellow Ontarians mend their broken lives … if we can say that Ontario families are more confident and secure about the future and what it will bring … if we can say that our young people are off to a better start in life, better able to take on the challenges that face them in this great big world … if we can say that we will walk a little taller and a little prouder … and if we can say that Ontario is a brighter place … then maybe, just maybe, it will have all been worthwhile."

Well, my friend, it has all been worthwhile.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a long-time friend of the late Jim Flaherty

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