In Whitby, Ont., mourners have gathered to pay tribute to one of Canada's noted Finance Ministers, the late Jim Flaherty.
Tomorrow, the late politician will be given a rare state funeral -- only 35 Canadians being given the honor in the past -- inside Toronto's magnificent St. James Cathedral. In paying tribute to him, Prime Minister Stephen Harper reflected how, "Jim was a great friend and a colleague, a dedicated family man, and an extraordinary minister of finance who sacrificed an enormous amount in his years of service to Canada and to Canadians."
Indeed. Flaherty was a rare eminent Canadian deserving of such an honour.
I first became aware of Flaherty as Ontario's Attorney General under Premier Michael (Mike) Harris in 2000. There was a concert by superstar Eminem planned at SkyDome and Flaherty came out against it linking the controversial rapper to a potential hate crime under Canada's criminal code. Flaherty contacted his federal counterparts in Ottawa to protest the imminent concert and the lack of respect for women.
He was advised by the then Liberal government of Jean Chretien that nothing could be done since women are excluded from the protection of Canada's hate propaganda law. He then gave a press conference calling for the Canadian government to add woman as part of the protection of Canada's hate propaganda law.
Even though, he did not succeed at the end, he made a noted impression to many Canadians.
When the then Finance Minister of Ontario, Ernie Eves, resigned from cabinet, he was promoted as Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier. In a year, he would mount a formidable run against Ernie Eves after the departure of then Premier Harris for the leadership of the party with a slew of Tea party like initiatives such as tax credits for private schools, corporate tax cuts and the most absurd, making homelessness illegal in Ontario. He became the right-wing blue Conservative candidate against the progressive Red Tory candidacy of Ernie Eves.
Eves won the leadership and became a short-lived Premier. In a year, the mighty Progressive Conservatives would lose government to the Liberals. He offered himself again for leadership and once again, lost to a Red Tory in John Tory.
When his leadership aspiration became hard to attain at Queens Park, he decided to join federal politics within Stephen Harper's government. In a Conservative caucus of obnoxious bad such as Pierre Poilievre, Flaherty became the good. While the pundits predicted Monte Solberg to be Harper's first Finance Minister, Flaherty became one. He believed in what C. D. Howe believed and advised former Prime Minister, Louis St. Laurent -- "The young men of the party must take on the job of reorganizing and rebuilding and perhaps the sooner they get at it the better -- Flaherty acted on it in real time as he became mentor to one-time Conservative ideologists such as John Baird, Tony Clement and Kellie Leitch in cabinet.
Flaherty was effective as Minister the way Paul Martin Sr. was as Minister of Health in the Lester B. Pearson minority government and was a brilliant council to Prime Minister Harper the way C. D. Howe was to Prime Ministers Mackenzie King and St Laurent.
As one of the longest serving Finance Ministers, he introduced such initiatives such as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, the Building Canada Plan and cut the GST. He also took a leadership role in G7 and G20 leaders gatherings and showed smarts at the beginning of the financial meltdown of 2008. He was respected at home and abroad whether one agreed with him or not.
When his death was announced almost a week ago as a result of a heart attack caused by Bullous pemphigoid, there were many bipartisan tributes offered to him. From a tearful Thomas Mulcair and Laureen Harper to ordinary Canadians, noted Conservatives at Queens Park and Ottawa, it seemed Flaherty had touched the lives of many Canadians.
He steered Canada through the Great Recession
Flaherty balanced stimulus programs and fiscal management in efforts to keep Canada on an even keel during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Canada emerged from that crisis as a bastion of economic stability among its G8 peers.
He got rid of the penny
The ever prudent finance minister said the penny would be no more during the delivery of his 2012 budget speech,saying the move would save Canadians some $11 million a year. “The penny is a currency without any currency in Canada,” he said in the speech.
He reduced the GST
Flaherty cut the GST rate twice during his time as finance minister, first cutting it from seven per cent to six per cent in the 2006 budget. He cut that rate again in 2008 to its current five per cent.
He balanced the budget (after unbalancing it)
The Conservatives, who inherited budgetary surpluses from the Liberals, fell into the red when they introduced a host of stimulus programs that helped the country bounce back from recession. Flaherty promised incessantly that his government would be able to fix the books by the 2015 election. In the delivery of his 2014 budget speech, he announced that the country was technically out of deficit, taking into account the $3-billion contingency fund.
He reined in mortgages
Flaherty took measures four times in four years to rein in Canada’s overheated housing market to bring it back from the brink of a bubble. He publicly took on banks that he felt were exercising what he believed to be irresponsible lending practices and made it harder for people to take on mortgages that could leave them in over their heads.
He fought corporate Canada over income trusts
In 2006, Flaherty made a controversial move to end tax exemptions for income trusts and said they’d be taxed the same way as corporations. In doing so, he broke a campaign promise to corporate Canada, who thought they had found a new shelter in trusts. The TSX lost more than 10 per cent of its value in the ensuing months.
He helped transform Ontario in the 1990s
Before his time in federal office, Jim Flaherty was a soldier in Ontario’s Common Sense Revolution under Premier Mike Harris. He held various roles including labour minister, attorney general and finance minister, during a time of tense union politics.
He launched Tax-Free Savings Accounts
The Whitby-Oshawa MP introduced the popular Tax-Free Savings Accounts, giving Canadians another incentive to save for retirement. The program was lauded when launched in the 2008 budget and Flaherty promised to double the contribution limit once the budget was balanced.
He launched the Registered Disability Savings Plan
Flaherty was instrumental in the 2007 introduction of the Registered Disability Savings Plan, a long-term plan to help Canadians with disabilities and their families save for a secure future. The usually stoic politician was emotional during a 2011 announcement of a government review of the program. His son John suffers a learning disability and has participated in the Special Olympics.
He introduced the Home Renovation Tax Credit
The tax back plan was introduced in the recession-era budget of 2009 to put a little more cash in consumers’ wallets and stimulate the all-important housing and construction industries.
He questioned a key Harper promise
Flaherty’s memorable moves are not all in the past. During his last days in office he very publicly and candidly questioned a Conservative election promise to introduce a tax policy would allow one spouse to transfer part of their income to a lower earning partner in order to avoid falling into a higher tax bracket. He asked whether the Conservative campaign pledge to allow income splitting would benefit all Canadians, a question that is sure to be central to the next election campaign in 2015, given critics' assertions that income-splitting would mostly benefit the wealthy.