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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty gives an interview in his Parliament Hill office on Aug. 5, 2010.

Reuters

ORILLIA, ONT. - Finance Minister Jim Flattery acknowledged Friday that, although he's a fiscal conservative, he believes the role of government when the private sector fails is to intercede and "act on behalf of the people."

He told Ontario's annual Couchiching Conference on public affairs: "There's high risk to that. And it creates some difficulty for people insistent on ideological purity."

He was responding to a questioner who asked him how his perspective on government had changed since he became Finance Minister four years ago and had played a central role in steering Canada through the global financial crisis that began in the summer of 2007.

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His government, among other interventions, bailed out automobile manufacturers, purchased CMHC-insured mortgages from lenders and guaranteed the wholesale debt of banks.

This year the Couchiching Conference, held in cottage country north of Toronto, is examining whether the economic crisis to date has been a watershed moment or a wasted opportunity for governments, international institutions, corporations and global societies to fix problems with global governance and the financial system.

Mr. Flaherty devoted most of a 45-minute speech to well-crafted but largely set-piece praise for the domestic financial management of his own government, its leadership in helping the G7 and G20 to pilot toward safe harbours and the indicators that Canada was just about best in the world in weathering the storm.

Only in the final paragraphs did he hint at continuing problems: "For Canada and all nations, our work is far from finished," adding: "Much more effort and determination is required. ... We have come too far and achieved too much to fall back into the complacency that allowed the global economy to be thrown into turmoil."

His speech, in fact, led to heated debate among several conference attendees as to whether it was the correct address for a Finance Minister to give to shore up psychological confidence in the financial markets or a wasted opportunity to openly examine the flaws in Canadian and global governance - financially and in other policy areas - in front of an informed audience of policy makers, academics and NGO leaders.

The conference goes until Sunday afternoon. One of the highlights will be Friday evening's debate on the role of the state by Calgary political scientist and former adviser to the Prime Minister, Tom Flanagan; former clerk of the Privy Council Alex Himelfarb, and senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Armine Yalnizyan.



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