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Jim Flaherty Was a Man Whose Humanity Trumped His Politics

Posted: 04/10/2014 3:20 pm

Jim Flaherty stared at me with tears streaming down his face. It was five years ago and I had been asked to speak at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa to support a group that helped with African adoptions. An effort supported by all parties, it was one of those few occasions where the true value of humanity trumped partisanship.

The venue was packed. I had my Sudanese daughter Abuk (eight at the time) spend that evening with me. She spent a bit of time playing with the Prime Minister's daughter and taking in the marvelous displays of totem poles and the Great Hall.

It was only as I was partially through my speech that I looked down to see Jim Flaherty, the Finance Minister, seated near the front. His son was somehow involved in international development and Jim had been there in part to support him. There were times when I looked at him that he seemed genuinely moved. When I brought Abuk up to the front, he applauded just as hard as anyone else and seemed genuinely touched by her story.

When I was finished the audience rose in a standing ovation -- not so much for me but for the triumph of Abuk and her remarkable story. As I came down off the stage we were swamped by well-wishers. I talked to various journalists and MPs and Laureen Harper was gracious.

Then when I looked up, Jim Flaherty was facing me with a tear-stained face. I was in shock. We often faced one another across the aisle and it was easy to see when he was mirthful or angry. But always we greeted one another respectfully, despite our differences. But on this occasion he could say nothing. Whatever emotions were coursing through him, I have not doubt they were sincere, deep, and marvelously human.

And then, without any warning, he threw his arms around me and said, "Glen, thanks on behalf of all Canadians." Then he was overcome and immediately sat down on a chair.

Regardless of where one stands in their opinion of Jim Flaherty he was an emotional man who transferred those emotions to love of country. He instinctively understood that a story as genuine as Abuk's was a thing Canada could both embrace and be proud of. His patriotism went that far, and it was compelling.

In all honesty, I am in tears as I write this piece. At this moment, only hours following Jim's death, I find myself grieving for a public man gone too soon. These are the moments when politics just isn't big enough to embrace the human condition, any more than partisanship could prevail that night concerning Abuk's story.

Jim Flaherty was a man of full emotion, but in the end he was a human being capable of depth and empathy. I was a Liberal; he was a Conservative. But not once did that stop us from being civil. Say what you like, but I will miss those handshakes we briefly shared whenever we bumped into one another.

And I will never forget the phone call he gave me on the day my kids -- Abuk's brother and sister -- came to Canada from Sudan. He was emotional and fully in the moment. We were neither Conservative or Liberal -- we were fathers and his love for children was deep.

I said a prayer for Jim this afternoon, as we all should for his family. But my favourite image of him will be of a dignified man, fully encompassed in emotion, who was yet capable of embracing another father -- a Liberal father, even -- and touching that human nerve in me that is the basis of all our compassion.

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  • Jim Flaherty with his wife(left) after giving his speech at the Provincial Progressive Conservative Party Leadership Convention, held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Mar. 22, 2002 Photo by Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

  • Jim Flaherty posing with the Stanley Cup while on the campaign trail for the provincial PC leadership at the Hockey Hall of Fame. Feb. 26, 2002 Photo by Louie Palu/The Globe and Mail

  • Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership candidate, Jim Flaherty, on Feb. 27, 2002 Photo by Tibor Kolley / The Globe and Mail

  • At the Ontario Progressive Conservative Leadership debate, Chris Stockwell looks on as Jim Flaherty, left, gets some last minute touch-up to his make-up. Picture taken on Feb.27, 2002. Photo by Tibor Kolley

  • Jim Flaherty becomes new Ontario finance minister, after Ernie Eves resigned from the post. New cabinet members were sworn in today, February 8, 2001, at Queen's Park. Photo by Patti Gower / The Globe and Mail.

  • Jim Flaherty becomes new Ontario finance minister, after Ernie Eves resigned from the post. New cabinet members were sworn in today, February 8, 2001, at Queen's Park. Photo by Patti Gower / The Globe and Mail.

  • Sunday. Mar.18/07. Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will deliver the budget in Ottawa tomorrow.During a pre-budget photo op, he purchased a pair of Canadian-made skates for his son John (16) at Blades Custom Skate Care Inc. in Whitby, Ont. The skates are CCM Reebok 9K pump skates. The total price including all taxes was $456.00. Before the photo op he was scrummed by the media. Pictures taken on Mar.15/ 2007 Photo by Tibor Kolley

  • Canadian Finance minister Jim Flaherty smiles as he takes part in a conference during a meeting of the Group of eight (G8) Finance in Lecce on June 12, 2009. World powers launched a project on the sidelines of G8 talks to develop vaccines against pneumococcal diseases as part of a new market-based mechanism for the developing world. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Thursday March 4, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

  • Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty shows a green shoe as he shops in Ottawa on March 28, 2012 for a new pair of shoes as part of the tradition of budget day. The tradition holds that Ministers of Finance purchase or wear new shoes when the budget is delivered. AFP PHOTO/ROGERIO BARBOSA (Photo credit should read ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty successfully exits an igloo outside the Nunavut legislature in Iqaluit, Canada during a break in proceedings at the G7 Finance Ministers Meeting, February 6, 2010. Moments earlier Minister Flaherty dislodged a large piece of snow from the entry way of another smaller igloo as he attempted to exit. AFP PHOTO/ GEOFF ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks to reporters at the Port of Montreal, Monday, September 27, 2010. Flaherty insists the government will be "fair and reasonable" in assisting stimulus projects that are supposed to be complete by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

  • Hanoi, VIET NAM: Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty (R) meets with his Vietnamese counterpart Vu Van Ninh during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the APEC finances ministers' meeting held in Hanoi 07 September 2006. Pacific Rim finance ministers will this week push for renewed talks to free up global trade and pledge steps against terrorist financing, according to a draft of a joint statement. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH Nam AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH Nam (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

  • France's Minister of the Economy, Industry and Employment Christine Lagarde (L), Canada's Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty (C) and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner attend the final press conference for the G7 Finance Ministers Meeting in Iqaluit, Canada, February 6, 2010. AFP PHOTO/ GEOFF ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • From left: Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling watch as US President George W. Bush delivers a statement with G7 finance ministers and heads of international financial institutions October 11, 2008 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty poses for a photo following an interview in Ottawa on Monday, Dec. 21, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit

  • Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper enter the House of Commons on budget day on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, February 11, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle

  • Finance Minister Jim Flaherty appears during a news conference at the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, on Monday, May 14, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick)

  • Finance Minister Jim Flaherty holds the last penny struck in Canada at the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, May 4, 2012. Flaherty announced in the March budget that the coin would no longer be produced because the cost of making it is more than it's worth. He has estimated that the government will save $11 million a year. Ian Bennett, president and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint, smiles at left. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)

  • Finance Minister Jim Flaherty holds the last penny struck in Canada at the Royal Canadian Mint in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, May 4, 2012. Flaherty announced in the March budget that the coin would no longer be produced because the cost of making it is more than it's worth. He has estimated that the government will save $11 million a year. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)

  • Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty arrives for a G-20 dinner, during the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund Thursday, April 18, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

  • Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, left, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, right look on as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces funding for new subways in Toronto, Sunday, September 22, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

  • A emotional Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty listens to a speaker during an announcement in Ottawa, ON Friday October 21, 2011. (CP)

  • Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, March 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

  • The photo from the last tweet from Jim Flaherty's account.

 

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