Langley MP Mark Warawa said “everybody in Ottawa is in shock,” after the sudden death of former finance minister Jim Flaherty at his Ottawa home on Thursday.
The popular Ontario MP was the only finance minister under Prime Minister Stephen Harper until a month ago, when he stepped aside. He took up the post in January, 2006. He had been battling a skin condition that required him to be on medication, and Warawa said that had affected his mobility. But he said there was no indication that Flaherty was seriously ill.
“This helps us to realize how precious life is,” Warawa said. “There were a lot of tears and hugging on all sides of the House when this became known. We are all at a loss for words.”
The House of Commons suspended sitting shortly after 2 p.m. Ottawa time, with MPs from all parties consoling one another.
Warawa said Flaherty was very popular with MPs of all parties, and was well-respected in the world finance community because of his careful stewardship of the Canadian economy, particularly when the 2008 recession hit.
Warawa said Flaherty began his career as finance minister by paying down debt from surpluses, and by reducing the GST from seven to five per cent. He said that GST reduction helped everyone in Canada, including people who pay no other taxes.
Then in 2008, Flaherty did a U-turn from Conservative principles and borrowed a lot of money to keep the economy moving. Warawa said the government set up a massive infrastructure program to help pay for public works projects that were shovel ready. In Langley, these included the Nicomekl River bridge on Fraser Highway and the sewer line extension to Aldergrove.
“We needed to stimulate the economy and he led us through that tough time,” Warawa said.
In more recent years, Flaherty has been focused on spending cuts to get the budget back into balance. A balanced budget is expected next year, but in effect the government is already running a surplus.
Warawa said cuts are not popular, but Flaherty was able to make tough decisions “with the best Irish smile he had.”
Warawa, who was heading to the Ottawa airport to head back to Langley this evening, said Flaherty will be greatly missed, and his death leaves a big hole in the House of Commons, and in the hearts of those who knew him.
Flaherty, 64, had served as minister of finance ion Ontario before assuming the same role with the federal Conservative government. He was MP for Whitby-Oshawa.