Jim Flaherty hailed as a 'hero' by sons at state funeral

Family, friends, and colleagues of all party stripes filled the pews at Toronto's downtown St. James Cathedral on Wednesday to pay their final respects to former finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Former finance minister died last week at age 64

Saying goodbye to Jim Flaherty

8 years ago
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Flaherty family pay tribute to the former finance minister at Toronto's downtown St. James Cathedral 3:59

Family, friends, and colleagues of all party stripes filled the pews at Toronto's downtown St. James Cathedral on Wednesday to pay their final respects to Jim Flaherty, the former finance minister who resigned from politics less than a month ago to spend more time with his family, only to have his life cut short by a sudden heart attack.

Flaherty, 64, died of a massive heart attack in his Ottawa condo last Thursday despite frantic efforts by a cabinet colleague and paramedics to resuscitate him. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid a moving tribute to his friend and only finance minister before a packed church that included Flaherty's widow, Christine Elliott and their triplet sons, John, Quinn and Galen.

"Only a few weeks ago, we had the occasion to issue political tributes to an extraordinary colleague upon the announcement of his intention to retire from public life, with the full expectation of another life ahead of him."

"Little did we know that we would be here today, with that future torn from him, and for us to deliver more profound reflections," Harper said.

Harper remembered Flaherty fondly, saying "as a human being, he was the complete package."

The prime minister let his sense of humour show, as he is known to do when in the company of friends, saying he envied Flaherty's ability to rally politicians of all stripes.

Harper said while Flaherty was "fiercely partisan," he was liked by his opponents, even his "enemies."

"That’s something in this business, something I envy. I can’t even get my friends to like me," Harper joked.

Harper revealed that Flaherty first approached him about leaving politics as early as 2010. Flaherty said he wanted to work in the public sector to put more money aside for his family and spend more time with them.

But Flaherty said he wouldn't do it unless Canada's finances were out of the woods and the budget was back to balance.

"And every year after that, without any prompting from me, the call would come and Jim would say, 'Prime Minister, I’m still worried about the global economy and we’re not yet in balance. I want to do one more budget,'" Harper said.

The prime minister said Flaherty was always up to it even as it "became more and more difficult for him, and sometimes hard to watch, as every one of you could plainly see."

Flaherty struggled to get by after he began taking the steroid prednisone to treat a serious but non-life-threatening skin condition known as bullous pemphigoid. 

Harper, who lost his own father 11 years ago, had some advice for Flaherty's triplet sons.

"You are no longer 'the boys,'" Harper said. "You are young men."

"Hold on to your mother and to your father's lessons, and know that there are many here and beyond who are there for you."

Harper's wife, Laureen, could do little to hold back the tears as her husband remembered Flaherty.

'Jimmy' remembered by siblings, widow, 3 sons

Norah Flaherty paid tribute to her brother, who her family called either "Jimmy, Jim-bo or Zoomy," but never Jim.

She recalled a moment when they were growing up as children when Flaherty's mom caught him throwing out his pennies in the trash. "'They're not worth anything,'" she recalled her brother saying.

In 2012, Flaherty announced the Canadian government would be scrapping the penny.

"Somewhat prophetic," his sister joked as the crowd laughed with her.​

Green scarves, which were handed out at the church's entrance, were worn by the mourners as a tribute to their Irish friend.​ While Flaherty was raised a Catholic, he and his wife began attending an Anglican church later in life.

Flaherty's widow, who is a Toronto-area MPP, spoke mainly for herself and their third son John.

Christine Elliott spoke with love and admiration about Flaherty's dedication to family and public service.

"Even when his life became more difficult in the last year or so, he persevered until he was certain that he could leave things in order for his successor."

'Put your feet up, lay your head back, close your eyes and relax. We will take it from here.- Quinn Flaherty, Jim Flaherty's son

Flaherty, who had always been open about his son John's mental disability, "wanted to make a difference in people's lives," she said.

"He wanted to make sure that everyone regardless of their varying abilities had the chance to live happy lives of purpose and dignity. Inclusion in every respect was his ultimate goal."

"John, Galen and Quinn: Your father loved you completely. You are the centre of his universe and you know that he would do anything in the world for you," Elliott said as she fought back tears.

Flaherty's son Quinn remembered his father as a man who instilled in him and his two brothers the values of "friendship, family, faith and love."

"Dad, I love you. We love you."

"Put your feet up, lay your head back, close your eyes and relax. We will take it from here," said Quinn.
Christine Elliott, right, and her sons wait for the start of the state funeral for her late husband Jim Flaherty in Toronto on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Galen said his dad was his "hero."

"When he thought we could do better, he'd tell you. But when he saw you do your best, he would always make time to show you how proud he was of you."

Galen said today did not mark the end of his relationship with his father, rather the beginning.

"He was my father because he showed me what it takes to be a man," said Galen.

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, a Flaherty confidante who rushed to his condo in an attempt to revive her friend and had dinner with him on the eve of his death, read a passage from the Bible.​

Liked across partisan lines

Flaherty's sudden death spurred an outpouring of grief that has stretched across the country and across party lines.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau attended the service, as well as former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and John Turner. Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Mark Carney, the former Bank of Canada governor who now heads the Bank of England, were also at the funeral.

Conservatives Leitch, John Baird, Lisa Raitt, Chris Alexander and Peter MacKay were among the caucus colleagues on hand. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose friendship with Flaherty caused the diminutive finance minister some uncomfortable moments in the media spotlight last year, also came to honour his friend.

Both current and past politicians from the Ontario Legislature also paid their respects, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and her Finance Minister Charles Sousa, as well as former Ontario premiers Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo also travelled to Toronto for the state funeral.

On Tuesday, hundreds of mourners filed into a low-lit room at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, Ont., which caters to the disabled and able-bodied alike. There, Flaherty's Maple Leaf-draped casket lay between two Mounties in ceremonial dress. Harper arrived late in the day for a private viewing.

Flaherty's state funeral is the first such honour since 2011, when former NDP leader Jack Layton was laid to rest. State funerals are customarily only given to current or former prime ministers, governors general, sitting cabinet ministers or members of the Royal Family.

With files from The Canadian Press