Emergency workers responded to a call at Flaherty's Ottawa home on Thursday. News later emerged that he had died at the age of 64.
Flaherty was Canada's finance minister for eight years until he stepped down just last month.
"We have lost a great Canadian who was dedicated to strengthening our county and our province and was recognized by his global peers as a source of strength during the financial crisis," outgoing Royal Bank of Canada president Gordon Nixon said. "My thoughts are with [his wife] Christine and their boys as they deal with this tragic loss."
Flaherty stickhandled Canada's economy through numerous crises and, broadly speaking, earned plaudits for his stewardship of the economic file.
Praises from Bay St.
"This is a sad day for Canada, as we've lost someone who dedicated himself to working on behalf of the country over a long period of public service," CIBC economist Avery Shenfeld said of his legacy. "While as in any political career there were bumps in the road, he will be remembered as one who was in the hot seat during the worst global downturn since the depression, and who played a role in cushioning that blow to our economy."
Economist Ben Rabidoux, president of North Cove Advisors, echoed that sentiment. "Jim was a great finance minister who was dealt a very bad hand during the financial crisis but played that hand as skillfully as any Canadian could have asked for," he said.
Flaherty spent particular time on the housing file during his tenure, moving multiple times to tinker with mortgage lending rules — first loosening them to make houses more affordable, then tightening them repeatedly to slow the apparent runaway growth of mortgage debt.
Rabidoux says he spoke with Flaherty on housing policy and respected his work on the file. "Whether you agree with him or not," Rabidoux said, "every Canadian should be thankful for his leadership."
Flaherty was one of Canada's longest-serving finance ministers, and met with private sector leaders frequently to seek input — and sometimes offer advice. In one high-profile instance last year, for example, he took the unprecedented step of reprimanding a number of lenders for offering mortgage lending rates that he felt were dangerously low given consumers' debt loads.
"I will miss working with Jim," TD Bank president Ed Clark said. "I greatly admired his passion for improving the lives of Canadians"
"He always had the best interest of the country in mind," Royal Bank economist Craig Wright added.