Jim Flaherty remembered during special Commons session
MPs offer tributes to late finance minister this morning
Members of Parliament paid tribute to the "Happy Warrior" in a special session of the House this morning.
After shutting down early Thursday afternoon in the wake of the sudden, tragic news of the death of Jim Flaherty in Ottawa, the Commons reopened Friday to give MPs on all sides of the House the opportunity to speak about their former colleague.
Deputy Speaker Joe Comartin, an NDP MP, led the Speaker's parade into the House at 10 a.m.
Her voice shaking at times, Leitch told the House how delighted she was to see "the long knives were set aside" when MPs first learned of Flaherty's sudden death.
"He gave his all to serve the country he loved," Leitch said of Flaherty, saying he was a "short Irishman" with a love for a tall glass of Guinness.
She said that after Flaherty resigned, he was supposed to move from his front bench seat in the House to one directly behind her. "He vowed to make rabbit ears behind my head," Leitch said, adding he never got the chance to carry out his promise.
A bouquet of red roses occupied Flaherty's empty desk along with a handwritten note.
Leitch, a doctor who sometimes advised Flaherty about his health, finished by reading the Irish blessing that begins, "May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rain fall soft upon your fields."
Harper, Mulcair, Trudeau not present
None of the leaders of the major parties was in the House Friday.
The NDP's tribute was given by House leader Peter Julian. Julian praised Flaherty's devotion to public service and noted that when Flaherty spoke to students at the University of Western Ontario in 2011, he told them about hearing Robert Kennedy speak over 40 years earlier.
Julian quoted Flaherty telling his audience, “Today, about 40 years after I heard Kennedy speak, my message is the same: Canada needs ... your skills, talents, idealism, energy and enthusiasm. Now, more than ever.”
Finance critic Scott Brison. speaking for the Liberals, said he and Flaherty "sparred" in the House and at committee, but recalled that Flaherty used to hit the MPs gym every morning at 6:30 a.m. where Brison would chat with him.
Brison continued Flaherty's "Irish sense of humour was tested by me from time to time." He would occasionally spot Flaherty among his caucus colleagues and would shout over to them, "Jim Flaherty is the first man I see naked every morning."
Jean-François Fortin spoke on behalf of the Bloc Québécois.
Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, reminded MPs "We will not see Jim Flaherty again on this mortal plane."
May, who for a time studied to become an ordained Anglican minister, said she had to speak as "a person of faith."
She mentioned that Easter, "the time when we break the bonds of death and celebrate the resurrection," was about to begin with the arrival of Palm Sunday. Flaherty, she concluded, was in not a better place, "but the best place."
As May resumed her seat, her face stricken, the Conservative caucus rose with a standing ovation.
Later, speaking to reporters, Leitch said she did see Flaherty Thursday but, as a physician, couldn't say more due to confidentiality.
Wearing a shamrock-patterned tie borrowed from MP Erin O'Toole, Leitch called Flaherty her "greatest champion." Young women, she added, need a champion at the table. "I had the fiercest lion at the table."
After some quick House business, MPs then voted to adjourn early for the second day in a row, this time for a two-week Easter break.
Before Thursday, the previous two times the House adjourned in extraordinary circumstances was on Sept. 20, 2001, so MPs could go to an interfaith ceremony marking the Sept. 11 attacks, and Dec. 9, 1998, after Liberal MP Shaughnessy Cohen collapsed and was taken to hospital.