Disability savings plan hits home for Flaherty

The finance minister became emotional during an otherwise routine announcement of a government review for the Registered Disability Savings Plan.
Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty was moved listening to a speaker during an announcement about Registered Disability Savings Plans in Ottawa on October 21. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

There was an initial attempt to contain the tears. When that failed, there was a brief foray at concealing them from the cameras.

Finally, there was no hiding them or holding them back. The finance minister, who is thought to be one of the tough guys in Stephen Harper's cabinet, wept unabashedly during what might have seemed a routine announcement.

Jim Flaherty was clearly affected Friday while announcing a government review of the Registered Disability Savings Plan. That emotion undoubtedly sprung from a personal connection to the announcement.

The plan, which includes contributions from Ottawa, helps parents of special needs children put savings aside to care for their children after they die.

Flaherty choked up several times while delivering a short prepared text and he was obviously moved while listening to a parent with a disabled child.

Asked about his reaction later, the minister offered no clue to why he appeared upset. One of his triplets, John, has a learning disability and has been involved in the Special Olympics program. It's no secret, but Flaherty wasn't talking about that Friday.

"I'm just happy that the prime minister supported innovation in Canada. This is an initiative that other countries in the world are looking at," he said.

Flaherty and his wife Christine Elliott, a provincial politician, have been actively -- and mostly quietly -- involved in issues dealing with children with disabilities for many years and the minister was instrumental in the creation of the disability savings plan in 2007.

He made clear that the review of the program was not with a view to find savings for the government, which is committed to reduce departmental spending by $4 billion annually.

"This is a very important initiative for our country and I want to make sure we get it right," he said.

With 48,000 accounts in existence, the program is already a tremendous success, he said.