Flaherty's final days filled with friends
The Canadian PressFriday, April 11, 2014
OTTAWA - Jim Flaherty's fleeting three-week retirement featured treasured dinners with family, friends and plans for a summer golf trip to Ireland with some of his closest buddies.
The former finance minister's sudden and shocking death reverberated on Parliament Hill on Friday as politicians paid poignant tribute in the House of Commons.
The dominion carillonneur played Irish melodies from the Peace Tower at noon, shortly after MPs remembered Flaherty for his dedication to public service and his good-natured sense of humour. Many of them wore green ties in honour of the longtime parliamentarian.
Details also emerged about Flaherty's final days and hours.
A government source said that Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, a medical doctor, administered CPR to the 64-year-old Flaherty before paramedics arrived at his condo in Ottawa's Byward Market area on Thursday.
Leitch and Flaherty lived in the same building, and had dined together on the eve of his death. Flaherty enjoyed a hamburger and onion rings and was in good spirits during their dinner, the labour minister said in an interview.
"He was in excellent form; you could tell a weight had been lifted off his shoulders from his stressful job and he talked about sailing and his children," she said.
"He also had a glint in his eye and was the gregarious Irishman we know and love. He made fun of me throughout the dinner about me being an aggressive Irishwoman."
Leitch wouldn't comment on her attempts to resusciate her mentor on Thursday, citing patient-physician confidentiality. The source said she went to his condo from Parliament Hill in an attempt to save him.
A witness outside the condo building said she watched at about 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursday as a flurry of RCMP, police and paramedics descended upon the scene.
About an hour later, she said she saw Flaherty, his body largely concealed beneath medical paraphernalia, being wheeled out of the building, a distraught woman by the side of the gurney. He had died of an apparent heart attack.
"They had covered him with equipment," said the witness, who didn't want to be identified because she is a government worker. "I saw his feet."
An emotional Leitch delivered her party's tribute to Flaherty in the House of Commons on Friday.
"I loved you immensely, my fierce friend, and I will miss you forever," she said.
Flaherty's wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, and his three 23-year-old sons were gathering on Friday to make arrangements for his funeral. There was no official word on where or when the funeral would be held.
Since his retirement last month, Flaherty, known for stoicism in the face of his battle against a rare and painful skin condition called bullous pemphigoid, routinely told friends and colleagues that he was on the mend and feeling good.
Even in his resignation statement, Flaherty insisted he was "on the road to a full recovery" and that his decision to step down wasn't related in any way to his health.
But others said they'd worried he was exhausted and struggling with his condition. Liberal MP Scott Brison, who also paid tribute to Flaherty in the House, said that he met with the finance minister at his Parliament Hill office in late January and was concerned.
"I hadn't realized how much discomfort he was dealing with," Brison said in an interview.
"But despite the obvious pain he was in, he continued to serve and didn't complain a bit. In his career and in his life, he had ups and downs, he had defeats, but these defeats didn't stop him or define him."
Chisholm Pothier, a former spokesman for Flaherty, said his friend's final weeks had been pleasant despite his ongoing health issues.
He had recently celebrated the birthday of his triplet sons in Ottawa, and the one-time finance minister and his friends were excited about their upcoming golf trip.
"They were planning their annual Ireland trip; they were working on that," Pothier said. "They go and they golf and they have a couple of pints and have a great time. It was something they were really looking forward to."
Pothier added ruefully: "Three weeks was not enough for him to enjoy his just rewards."
Leitch agreed that Flaherty was looking forward to a bright future since stepping down as finance minister.
"Here's a fellow who had the opportunity for a next great career," she said.
"He had had a bit of a weight taken off his shoulders, and he was looking forward to spending the summer sailing and spending time with his triplet boys. But you know, the business world was one that was open for him, and I know that he had had many individuals approach him because they wanted his intellect. They wanted his brilliance at the boardroom table."