Jim Flaherty's death shocks, saddens Manitoba politicians

Federal and provincial politicians in Manitoba say they're shocked to learn that Jim Flaherty, Canada's former finance minister, has died.
Former finance minister Jim Flaherty, seen at a news conference on Oct. 28 in Ottawa, has died suddenly at age 64. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Federal and provincial politicians in Manitoba say they're shocked to learn that Jim Flaherty, Canada's former finance minister, has died.

Flaherty, who had been finance minister until he stepped down last month, died on Thursday. He was 64 years old.

A source close to the family told the CBC's Evan Solomon that Flaherty died of a massive heart attack. Emergency services were called to Flaherty's home in Ottawa at 12:27 p.m. Thursday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper embraces MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, left, as MPs Kellie Leitch and Candice Bergen hug Laureen Harper after announcing former finance minister Jim Flaherty had died on Thursday. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
​MPs suspended the House of Commons just before the daily question period, around 2:15 p.m. ET, as news of Flaherty's death made its way through Parliament Hill.

"We just came out of the reading room here on Parliament Hill and most of us were crying," Conservative MP Steven Fletcher (Charleswood-St. James Assiniboia) told CBC News.

Winnipeg Centre NDP MP Pat Martin said it felt like the air went right out of the House of Commons when the news hit.

"He was one of us," Martin said of Flaherty.

"He was a very well-respected journeyman tradesperson politician — competent and capable and earned the grudging respect from all parties, including me personally."

Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen said she sat behind Flaherty in the House of Commons and they would often chat.

"We both have a similar interest and he has a really deep care for people with disabilities, with intellectual disabilities, so that was something that we shared," she said.

"He was just such a great guy — you know, smart, funny, gentle — and he's just going to be so, so missed."

Other members of Parliament took to Twitter to pay tribute to Flaherty.

Duty to serve

Fletcher said Flaherty had a self-deprecating sense of humour and called himself "a tall man in reputation but short in stature."

Flaherty stepped down from cabinet less than a month ago, citing a plan to eventually return to the private sector.

He had spent more than a year publicly battling health problems.

Flaherty could have made a lot of money in the private sector but felt he had a duty to serve Canada, Fletcher said.

Martin said MPs were happy for Flaherty when he stepped down last month so he could focus on his health.

"Watching him struggle in recent months, we were kind of happy for him that he had resigned his high-stress position and maybe he'd be able to take some time for himself and be able to enjoy a healthy retirement, or at least take care of himself. So that was the real surprise," he said.

Provincial leaders react

Flaherty's death also sent shockwaves through the Manitoba Legislature, with MLAs observing a moment of silence at the beginning of question period Thursday afternoon.

At this meeting of provincial finance ministers on June 14, 2001, in Montreal, Flaherty -- then Ontario's finance minister -- listens to Greg Selinger, who at the time was Manitoba's finance minister. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)
Premier Greg Selinger, who was the province's finance minister when Flaherty was finance minister in Ontario, said he was "shocked and saddened" to hear the news.

"He was committed, diligent, hard working and passionate in his convictions and vision for his province and his country," Selinger said in a statement Thursday.

"It is particularly saddening to know that, after serving the public for so long, his untimely passing comes so soon after his retirement as federal finance minister."

Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister, a former MP who worked with Flaherty in the Conservative caucus, described him as a "true believer in keeping taxes low, deficits small, and government honest."

"He worked tirelessly for these ideals and now he has left behind a national legacy of which his wife Christine and sons John, Galen, and Quinn are sure to be proud," Pallister said in a statement.