Mr. Speaker, I ask everyone to pause and look at their dictionary this morning. Under “Irish” they will see a leprechaun with a twinkle in his eyes and fierce determination behind them—my good friend.
It is with sadness that I stand in this place of honour today to pay tribute to a great national leader, a colleague, a mentor, my champion, and a very close friend, the Hon. James Michael Flaherty.
As Thomas D’Arcy McGee wrote:
Am I remember’d in Erin—
I charge you, speak me true—
Has my name a sound, a meaning
In the scenes my boyhood knew?
Jim Flaherty's name has a meaning for all Canadians—a meaning of respect, of passion for country, and of empathy for others.
The deep sense of shock and loss we all felt at Jim's passing yesterday tells us how much a part of all of our lives he had become.
Whatever our politics or local interests, Jim Flaherty was so clearly working hard every day for what he saw as our country's economic interests.
As one of the country's longest-serving finance ministers and the longest-serving Conservative finance minister, as he used to remind me regularly, Jim truly made a difference in the lives of Canadians, by lowering taxes, introducing initiatives such as the children's fitness tax credit, and by creating the tax-free savings account and the registered disabilities savings plan.
Jim’s acute intellect, his immense compassion for the disadvantaged and the disabled, his global reach on international monetary and regulatory challenges were all part of his deep humanity and decency. He gave his all to serve a country he loved.
As he said just three weeks ago when he departed as the minister of finance, “We live in the greatest country in the world, and I want Canadians to know that it has been my honour and my privilege to serve them.”
Despite his unwavering commitment to public service, Jim never lost sight of what was truly important. He loved his family, he loved his hometown of Whitby, and he loved to kick back with a tall glass of Guinness as often as he could.
Jim never forgot the humble working class roots that were established at the dinner table with his family in Lachine, Quebec. In fact, while attending Princeton, and later earning a law degree, Jim bussed tables in cafeterias and drove a cab.
He believed in hard work, and I think he mentioned that often, and making a positive difference in the lives of Canadians. It was with this “can do” attitude that he became a mentor and champion for me personally, and for many of his colleagues, both in this place and abroad.
For me, I can speak to his being my champion on two specific occasions. I was at a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of all places, in 2006. Jim was a newly minted finance minister. He called me and asked me if I would chair a panel on the children's fitness tax credit.
He said to me that they needed some health expertise and that it did not exist at Finance Canada. He wanted someone from the health care profession.
The opportunity he granted me in doing that, a young Canadian who was but 35 years of age, was that I had my first experience of the development of excellent public policy. I could take my professional background and apply it to public policy, and millions of Canadians became the beneficiary.
I have been very privileged as an orthopedic surgeon. I meet hundreds of patients in clinic, children and parents, but public policy, as we all know in this place, impacts all Canadians in a meaningful way and Jim understood that.
Jim taught me that. It created a passion for me at one point in time so that I would then move forward. Yet again, in 2010, I was standing in clinic, and the short Irishman called me and said “I hear you're running for office.” I said, “I am not running for office.” He said, “But I hear you are running for office” in the kind of tone of “I have decided you are running for office”. I said to him, “I don't recognize an election going on right now. Maybe we should have a conversation about this.”
He explained to me the circumstances in my home riding and encouraged me to run in the nomination. He was persistent. It was not something I was wont to do. In fact, he called probably every day, if not every second day, for five months. If you know his fierce determination, as I do, and I think many people in this place do, you finally just say yes because it is easier than taking the calls.
He often got his way that way, persistence being one of his great attributes. For that, I had the opportunity to be involved in a nomination, and now to stand in this place.
He reached out across Canada, across party lines, across business and labour divides, to seek consensus and advance fairness, something I hope to emulate during my time in public service. I know no one who expresses that more than Jim Flaherty.
When the shocking and crushing news reached the chamber yesterday, I was delighted to hear that the long knives that typify question period in a competitive parliamentary system were set aside for a moment of common humanity, consolation, and people reaching out to each other beyond partisan divisions. The Jim Flaherty I knew, the Jim Flaherty we all know, would have approved of that.
For those who do not know, back in the late sixties, Jim did in fact canvass for Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He always used to say that his sister made him do it because he was the baby brother.
It was also a sad day when Jim recently retired as minister of finance, not only because we were losing the greatest finance minister that this country has ever seen, but because his new seat assignment in the House of Commons was directly behind me. Time and time again over the last three weeks, he teased me relentlessly, in fact, vowed to make rabbit ears behind my head while I was speaking. Unfortunately, he never made it here.
Jim will be so very missed, and not forgotten. He will be remembered for his big Irish smile, the twinkle in his eye, his wicked sense of humour, his trademark ties, and, most importantly, his multiple public policy accomplishments over his nearly 20 years of public service.
His legacy is immense. I am confident that everyone in the chamber, and every Canadian, can point to something where Jim Flaherty touched their lives. His service was overwhelming. His friendship, to those of us who benefited from its breadth, warmth, depth, and humour, was the ultimate definition of loyalty.
He loved his country and served it with a heart as big as the country itself. The gap he has left will not soon be filled.
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sunshine warm upon your face;
the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of His hand.
To my dear friend Jim, I loved you immensely my fierce friend, and I will miss you forever.