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Former finance minister Jim Flaherty dies at 64

Former finance minister Jim Flaherty, 64, died suddenly on Thursday in Ottawa, news that sent shock waves around the country.

“Today is a very sad day for me, for our government and all of our country,” a visibly shaken Stephen Harper said Thursday afternoon in Ottawa. “I learned a short while ago that our colleague, my partner and friend, Jim Flaherty has passed away suddenly today.”

The prime minister said: “This comes as an unexpected and a terrible shock to Jim’s family, to our caucus, to Laureen and to me. It is with the heaviest of hearts that I offer my family’s condolences and I know the condolences of the entire Parliament and government of Canada to Jim’s wife Christine and his sons Quinn, Galen and John.”

Paramedics were called to Flaherty’s downtown Ottawa condo around 12:30 p.m. and Flaherty was pronounced dead at the home a short time later, Ottawa police said.

No further details were immediately available on a cause of death.

Flaherty was born in 1949 in Lachine, Que.  He began his political career at the provincial level, serving in a variety of cabinet portfolios in Ontario before making the jump to Ottawa. Most recently, he was MP for Whitby-Oshawa.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford described Flaherty, who at one point served with Ford’s late father at Queen’s Park and was a close family friend and mentor, as a dedicated public servant.

“Jim will be remembered as a relentless fighter and a champion for the people,” Ford said choking back tears. “He will deeply be missed by everyone who had the good fortune of knowing him.”

“He kept the country on track in one of the most difficult financial times,” Ford added. “Canada wouldn’t be where it is today without the efforts of Jim Flaherty.”

Flaherty’s family said in a statement that he died peacefully.

“We appreciate that he was so well supported in his public life by Canadians from coast to coast to coast and by his international colleagues,” the statement said.

While his family asked for privacy to mourn, Ottawa police said a police investigation would be conducted because the death occurred outside a medical institution.

The House of Commons was suspended in the wake of the news and politicians and Canadians took to social media to pay tribute to one of the country’s longest-serving finance ministers who many, including Premier Kathleen Wynne, credited with steering Canada out of the worst financial times since the Great Depression.

Wynne said it was a sad day at Queen’s Park where she and Flaherty were colleagues in the early 2000s.

“He was a feisty articulate spirit in this place.”

The Ontario legislature, where Flaherty sat for a decade, held a moment’s silence for him and recessed.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said she was shocked to hear the news.

“That’s a real loss for our country,” she said.

Until his unexpected departure on March 18, Flaherty was the Harper government’s first and only finance minister.

He got the job in 2006 and held it for eight years through shuffles, international economic turmoil and a bout with a rare skin disease that had him on steroids.

The condition was not thought to be life-threatening at the time.

Flaherty was a colourful, jocular man with a penchant for self-deprecating humour and witty banter that took the edge off some of his political jibes.

He became an MP in 2006 as Harper formed his first government and became finance minister.

As minister, he presided over a series of tax cuts and then ran huge deficits as recession swept the world in 2009.

But he vowed the he would staunch the flow of red ink and get the budget balanced by the next election in 2015.

His last budget, delivered shortly before his resignation, put him within easy reach of balance. But he died before the budget could turn to surplus.

Statement from Flaherty’s family courtesy of Prime Minister’s Office:

Christine Elliott and her triplet sons, John, Galen and Quinn would like to make Canadians aware that her beloved husband and father passed away peacefully today in Ottawa.

We appreciate that he was so well supported in his public life by Canadians from coast to coast to coast and by his international colleagues.

The family asks for privacy at this time.

With files from The Canadian Press