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Goodbye to the Happy Warrior Jim Flaherty

Of all the touching tributes to Jim Flaherty that have flooded over the newswires the last several days, one seemed to stick out among them all. Andrew Coyne called the late Finance Minister “one of the last happy warriors in our politics…” Well put.

Happy warrior has been a term used to describe those in the political arena who seem to get a certain joy out of both the joust of debate, and the art of building relationships. They are the types of leaders who throw zingers at the opposition with a twinkle in their eye. They are the types of leaders who clink swords with the opposition by day, and clink glasses by night. It was what made men like Ralph Klein, Ronald Reagan, and Alfred E. Smith who they were.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Flaherty twice. The first was at a Golf Club near his home riding, where the Prime Minister was stopping by to speak to some GTA Conservatives. After the speech, I found Flaherty on the balcony, chit chatting with anyone who was around. In a room full of movers and shakers- Flaherty was by far the smartest, and by far the most powerful person in the room, but you would never know it- because he wasn’t in any hurry to let you know. In a world where so many politicians claim to be “the common man”, with Flaherty- everyone just knew. There was no aura of superiority, no haughtiness, no pretention at all. He had time for you- regardless of who you were. He was a man who felt equally comfortable on Bay Street as he did on Main Street.

The second time I met Jim was when he came to visit Western University in my first year here. The UWO Conservatives held a meet and great event at a bar in downtown London. Flaherty had spoken earlier that day to a room full of Ivey students about the value of public service, and stopped by to give us much of the same advice, and to talk about the world economy. As a group of 30 of us swarmed him, he answered every single question- from complicated inquiries about macroeconomics, to simpler ones about the nature of the job, and his future aspirations. He stayed until every question was answered, and every picture was taken. It seems like today everyone thinks they are too “busy” for your attention, but here was a man who’s finger was one of the few on the levers of a still very fragile world economy- and he had all the time in the world for us.

Some have called Flaherty “partisan”, but what they really mean to say is that he was principled. Flaherty was no doubt a principled man. He knew what he believed, and he wasn’t afraid to stand up for it- often with a cheerful grin. When the opposition launched a fury of attacks across the aisle- Flaherty always responded in a Thatcher-esque way: unabashed, yet calm. In 2011, the opposition Parties blocked Flaherty’s proposed budget, leading to an election in May. The ribbing from the other side was intense, and impossible to refute, so Flaherty would wait. The Prime Minister would go on to win a majority victory on May 2nd, and when Flaherty returned a month later to deliver the budget, he quipped “Mr. Speaker, as I was saying on March 22nd…” The house exploded with laughter, even the opposition. That was Jim Flaherty.

There will be plenty of time to analyze his political legacy. To some, he may have seemed like just any other Finance Minister, but it is becoming clear to everyone now that in the world of global finance- he was a rock star. Since the financial meltdown of 2008, the demand for smart fiscal managers in government has risen dramatically. Flaherty’s ability to steer the Canadian economic ship through the extremely dangerous storms of the last recession drew much deserved praise. In an era of panic- the steady, calm resolve of Mr. Flaherty was reassuring.

What is more to be remembered about Jim Flaherty is the man he was. The greatest testament of a life well lived isn’t always just the professional accomplishments, of which he had many- but the personal ones. A husband, a father to three sons- one of whom I was able to get to know as our paths crossed at Western. He was quite simply- a good man.

But how do you sum up the professional life and the personal life of a good man like Jim Flaherty? Maybe you have to look back to the real origins of “the happy warrior”. Stealing a section from the William Wordsworth poem- The Character of the Happy Warrior:

Who is the Happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be…
The Happy Warrior finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven’s applause:
This is the happy Warrior; this is he
That every man in arms should be.

The Prince Arthur Herald
Photo Credit: Twitter, @Globebusiness