The genuine outpouring of emotion on the news of former finance minister Jim Flaherty’s sudden death is a reflection of the political life that the public does not always see. It is sad that it takes a death to lead us all to say things that should be said more often.
Mr. Flaherty and I were political opponents. He became a member of the Ontario Legislature as I was leaving the scene, but whenever we met, there was a combination of robust political jousting and personal goodwill. It was a pattern that was set early on and never changed, and was strengthened by the interest in music I shared with his wife, Christine Elliott.
He was fiercely competitive, proud of his faith and his Irish heritage, a hockey player, a lawyer and a robust Conservative. But he was liked and trusted by opponents as well as colleagues. He could well be described as the workhorse of two administrations, both provincial and federal, for nearly 20 years. He presided over a dramatic economic crisis and recovery, travelled widely and never put in a mere eight-hour day.
He spent the past year and a half fighting a serious skin condition whose treatment was gruelling and difficult. He did not complain; he fought back. He left office with his head high, looking forward to new possibilities and challenges in private life.
When I left politics, Mr. Flaherty sent a handwritten note just saying that he recognized a fellow practitioner whose dedication and wit he acknowledged, even though we crossed rhetorical swords for almost two decades. I feel the same way.
He worked hard and he cared about his work, his province and his country. He also cared about his family, and built networks of friendship and collegiality both in Canada and around the world. His personal experience with disability affected his views about public policy. He could be brutally partisan, then swap stories over a glass of wine. Maybe even two glasses.
As an Irishman, Jim knew only too well that there are times when the world breaks your heart. And he deserves to be remembered as one of those in the arena of whom Teddy Roosevelt once so rightly said:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”