Political players of all party stripes gather for fond farewell to Jim Flaherty
TORONTO — A gallery of political luminaries from all sides of the partisan divide gathered at a cavernous Toronto cathedral Wednesday to set aside their differences and pay final respects to former finance minister Jim Flaherty.
Mourners donned green scarves, a tribute to Flaherty’s Irish heritage, as they entered the downtown St. James Cathedral to remember Flaherty, 64, who died of a heart attack last week in his Ottawa condominium.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and John Turner were among those on hand, as were various federal cabinet ministers, including John Baird, Peter MacKay and Chris Alexander.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen arrived in advance of the cortege, followed by Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife Sharon. Harper exchanged pleasantries with Mulroney and shook hands with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as they sat down.
Harper was to deliver the eulogy, a tribute to his friend and political lieutenant that the prime minister wrote himself.
At one point, Mulroney and Turner, famous political rivals, were seen to exchange smiles and nods.
A host of familiar faces from the Ontario legislature — former premier Ernie Eves and Conservative Leader Tim Hudak among them — were also present.
Before the proceedings got underway, a choir assembled behind the altar and an organist filled the chamber with hymnal music as mourners awaited the arrival of the cortege carrying Flaherty’s casket.
The entire federal Conservative caucus was invited, as well as all current provincial premiers and finance ministers, as well as living former prime ministers and governors general.
Large white tents were erected on the lawn of the cathedral. Across the street from the church, a phalanx of TV cameras documented the arrival of family, friends and dignitaries.
Onlookers began gathering several hours before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. One man had his patriotism on full display, wearing a white jacket adorned with a red maple leaf and clutching a Canadian flag.
The busy downtown Toronto streets surrounding the church were closed to all vehicular traffic, except for streetcars.
The ceremonial journey of the casket began in Whitby, Ont., and proceeded along Highway 401, down the Don Valley Parkway and through downtown Toronto before its scheduled arrival at the church just before 3 p.m. ET.
Flaherty’s death, which came less than a month after his retirement as minister, sent shock waves through the national capital, where flags have been flying at half-mast and the Peace Tower has been bathed in green light.
Hundreds of dignitaries and citizens lined up to pay their respects Tuesday at Whitby’s Abilities Centre, which caters to the disabled and able-bodied alike. Harper arrived late in the day for a private viewing.
Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, a Flaherty confidante who rushed to his condo in an attempt to revive her friend and had dinner with him on the eve of his death, also paid her respects.
Leitch was scheduled to deliver a reading at the funeral in what was expected to be one of the emotional high points of the service.
Mark Carney, the former Bank of Canada governor who now heads the Bank of England, was also on hand at the funeral, which took place under tight security just blocks from Toronto’s famed financial district, a favourite Flaherty stomping ground.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose friendship with Flaherty caused the diminutive finance minister some uncomfortable moments in the media spotlight last year, was also attending. Ford and his brother, Doug, also paid their respects in Whitby on Tuesday.
Flaherty’s state funeral is the first such honour since 2011, when former NDP leader Jack Layton was laid to rest. State funerals are customarily only given to current or former prime ministers, governors general, sitting cabinet ministers or members of the Royal Family.