WHITBY, Ont. — Hundreds of dignitaries and citizens lined up Tuesday to pay respects to Jim Flaherty, the former finance minister whose unexpected death last week shocked many across the country.
As Irish ditties played softly over speakers, mourners filed into a low-lit room, where Flaherty’s casket lay between two Mounties in ceremonial dress, his widow and triplet sons on one side.
John Ascott was among those arriving early to sign a book of condolences downstairs.
“He made a great sacrifice for this country and I was deeply saddened by his passing and shocked,” Ascott said.
“It was the least I could do to come out here and pay my condolences to his family and honour his service to Canada.”
First to greet Christine Elliott as she stood near the Maple Leaf-covered casket of her late husband was Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley.
Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney was also among early VIP visitors as strains of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” seeped across the room.
Flaherty, 64, died last Thursday of a suspected heart attack, less than a month after resigning from his long-running finance post in cabinet.
The visitation — which precedes a state funeral at St. James Cathedral in downtown Toronto on Wednesday — was being held in Flaherty’s Whitby riding at the Abilities Centre that also caters to the disabled.
The former federal and provincial finance minister and Elliott, a Tory member of the Ontario legislature, were strong supporters of the centre. Flaherty was a known champion of the disabled cause.
As they passed silently by, some laid a hand on the casket and shed a tear. Others embraced Elliott, who managed a smile for the well-wishers.
Dismay over the death of the diminutive politician, known for his fierce partisanship as well as his impish humour, cut across partisan lines amid debate about his legacy as finance minister.
But for those in his riding, Flaherty was responsive to their concerns, said William Fisher, one of the many visitors from the area.
“I’m sorry to see him go because he did a really good job,” Fisher said. “If you had a problem, he’d answer your letter.”
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was among those attending the visitation.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were expected to attend Wednesday’s state funeral — the first such honour since one for former NDP leader Jack Layton in 2011.
Several members of the Conservative cabinet were also expected to be on hand.
Flags have been flying at half-mast on Parliament Hill since Flaherty’s death and Canadians have been signing an online book of condolences.