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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty discuss a subway extension in Toronto, September 23, 2013.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Jim Flaherty is remembered by Toronto politicians as a champion for the region, and by Mayor Rob Ford as "a very special friend."

The former Conservative finance minister had deep political and family ties with the Ford clan, serving in the provincial legislature in the 1990s with the mayor's father, Doug Ford Sr., and as recently as last year jetting to Chicago with the mayor and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, to watch a Blackhawks hockey game.

Mr. Ford frequently referred to his ties to the finance minister as he pushed for federal money to build subways. And Mr. Flaherty stood by the city's leader last year after the mayor's admission that he smoked crack cocaine, his eyes welling up during a news conference when he was asked about his friend's troubles.

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"He was a close friend of the family for many, many years. I can never thank him enough for his friendship and his loyalty through the years," Mr. Ford said, reading from a statement in a halting voice, his brother by his side.

"It is with deep sadness and a heavy heart that I say goodbye to a very special friend," Mr. Ford said. "We love you, Jim. We'll miss you. "

Former New Democrat MP Olivia Chow, who is running against Mr. Ford for mayor, remembered Mr. Flaherty for his relaxed manner in the House of Commons, the twinkle in his eye, and for his work in the Greater Toronto Area.

"Jim was passionate about the GTA," she said after hearing the news in the midst of a press conference. Ms. Chow expressed her sympathies to the former minister's wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott. "I understand how difficult it is when you have a partnership, when a husband and wife are both in politics. There's a special bond there. I wish her strength," she said.

Another mayoral rival, John Tory, former leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party, said he was honoured to serve with Mr. Flaherty at Queen's Park. "I am shattered by the news of Jim Flaherty's sudden passing," he said in a statement.

"Jim was thoughtful, intelligent, and an incredibly sensitive man who cared deeply about other people – especially those with special needs and those who were struggling. He also knew how to have fun," he said.

Councillor Karen Stintz, also running for mayor, said she was honoured to have known Mr. Flaherty. "Jim Flaherty will be missed, but his achievements in public life will be remembered for a long time," she said in a statement.

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