Sunday, April 13, 2014

I Come Not To Praise Flaherty

I have thus far avoided writing about Jim Flaherty's passing for a very simple reason; it is difficult, if not impossible to keep separate his family's personal loss with the man's record as a politician. Yet two pieces I read in yesterday's Star convinced me otherwise, and they allow me to offer my own views without disrespect for the dead.

The first, a fine piece of writing by Jim Coyle, is entitled Jim Flaherty gave up so much to serve us. His thesis is this:

...our politics would ... improve mightily if the Canadian public saw politicians as human beings much like themselves, often making very large sacrifices, rather than as contemptible cartoon figures of vanity, greed and corruption.

His column goes on to describe the tremendous sacrifices Flaherty made in his 25 years of service: forgone remuneration, which would have been likely totaled in the millions given the lucrative law practice he left upon entering politics, and more importantly, the precious time with his family that was never to be recovered.

Coyle states:

But let’s be honest. A life in politics, and especially in its higher reaches, is inherently incompatible with the everydayness and unpredictable crises of family life.

The job, more than most, is all-consuming. By necessity, it demands living away from home part of most weeks. Even when not in Ottawa, the travelling through ridings, the out-and-abouting, the constituency work is unrelenting.

But his piece, which ultimately is an effort to remind us of how politics can still be seen as a noble calling despite the widespread public cynicsm that currently prevails, omits something crucial to any evaluation of Jim Flaherty in particular, and politicians in general. The sacrifices Coyle discusses, while no doubt real ones, become tainted, cheapened and debased when they are made in service to a dark lord. And Flaherty had two such masters: the hideous former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who did more than any other Canadian politician in memory to disseminate dissension, disunity and class hatred, all of which Flaherty was a willing part.

His second dark master was, of course, Stephen Harper, whose myriad measures to unravel our social, economic and political frameworks need no recounting here.

So without question, Coyle is right in reminding us that Flaherty sacrificed much to be a part of public life. But surely an honest evaluation of that life cannot be made separate from his and his masters' records.

Which brings me to the second piece I read yesterday, by Thomas Walkom, entitled CBC cuts show other side of Jim Flaherty. While acknowledging the grievous loss suffered by his family and friends, the writer makes this key assertion:

... it was under Flaherty’s watch as finance minister that the latest cutbacks in federal government funding to CBC occurred. ....he was also an integral part of a government determined to smash or cripple much of what makes Canada a livable country.

His death is a reminder that good people can do bad things for the best of motives.

Walkom broadens his perspectives beyond those cuts that will untimately destroy the CBC:

Flaherty’s various budgets have called for more than $5 billion in annual spending cuts. Successive parliamentary budget officers have noted that the vast majority of these cuts are to come from as yet unspecified public services.

On top of these, the federal government has decided to dramatically scale back spending on medicare.

Those health-care transfer cuts, announced by Flaherty in 2011, won’t kick in until well after the next election.

The cutbacks in employment insurance, the decision to raise the age of eligibility for old-age security, the reductions in transfer payments to Ontario, the lessening of environmental enforcement — all were collective decisions of the Harper cabinet.

All ministers bear responsibility for them.

But to forget that the former finance minister was a critical part of this ministry is to do him no favours.

And surely, it does no favours to Canada if we bury Flaherty's questionable record along with his earthly remains.


  1. As Marc Antony said, Lorne, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones."

    1. So apt here, Owen, and a caution to the 'masters of the universe' who walk among us.

  2. First of all I would like to extend my condolences to Mr. Flaherty's family and friends on his sudden passing. It is a shocking tragedy that after 19 years in politics Mr. Flaherty was only able to enjoy three weeks back in private life.

    But the Government of Canada is not holding a state funeral for Mr. Flaherty because of how good of a man he was in his personal life. Harper is bestowing this extravagant honour because of the high public office Mr. Flaherty formerly held.

    It is certainly being charitable to characterize Mr. Flaherty's eight-year record as federal finance minister "questionable". A reasonable case could be made that he was the worst finance minister Canada has had in the past 30 years. I would highly recommend reading these excellent articles which were both written last month a few days after Mr. Flaherty stepped down:

    In fairness part of the blame has to be laid on Harper who kept Mr. Flaherty on a short leash and never allowed him the independence that, for better and for worse, Chretien allowed to Paul Martin and Mulroney allowed to Michael Wilson.

    Owen's quote of Marc Anthony's famous line from Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar" is particularly apt in view of the fact that many years from now Canadians may still be suffering from the fateful decisions that were made from 2006 to 2014 when Mr. Flaherty was in office.

    1. Well-stated, Anon. And thank you for the links, which I shall check out in the morn.