Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Champion of Aboriginal Business, Walks On


Condolences are pouring in from across Canada for former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who walked on suddenly at age 64 on April 10 from an apparent heart attack.

As the finance minister who saw Canada through the worldwide economic crash of 2008 during his eight-year tenure, Flaherty also championed aboriginal entrepreneurship. He will receive a state funeral on Wednesday April 16, an honor more commonly reserved for prime ministers, governors general and sitting cabinet ministers.

Flaherty had resigned on March 18 to pursue life in the private sector. Indigenous groups recognized the Conservative as a supporter of aboriginal-owned businesses and economic strength. Among other initiatives, he championed programs designed to get indigenous people interested in business and oversaw the award of $5 million to a chair at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia. The funds are to be disseminated over five years and will expand the program nationally.

“Canada’s long-term economic prosperity depends on the entrepreneurial spirit and initiative of Canadians,” Flaherty upon announcing the funding in June 2013. “The Purdy Crawford Chair in Aboriginal Business Studies is a fine example of this. The program is encouraging aboriginal peoples in Canada to study business at the post-secondary level, while undertaking pure and applied research specific to aboriginal communities. This program is helping to build a brighter future for aboriginal youth and helping to promote independence and economic self-reliance for aboriginal communities.”

“He just got it,” said Keith Brown, Cape Breton University’s vice president of international and aboriginal affairs, to the Cape Breton Post on April 10, describing the campus visit during which Flaherty had learned about the Purdy chair. “He understood the importance of it and thought it was very important for Canada and aboriginal youth to be given access to business mentorship.”

The award enabled the program to expand to 270 student participants nationally every year, the Cape Breton Post said. The efforts, and the vote of confidence in aboriginal business acumen and enthusiasm, was not lost on Indigenous Peoples, with the Assembly of First Nations and other groups offering condolences.

“I believe that Jim Flaherty was a true advocate for Canada who will be remembered for generations to come,” said Betty Ann Lavallee of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples in a statement. “As we begin to reflect on his many accomplishments both as the Finance Minister of Canada and Ontario, I am certain that his legacy will be one that illustrates how effective he was as finance minister when he successfully steered Canada through a period when the world faced a true economic crisis.”

Flaherty was a longtime Member of Parliament and had also served in the Ontario provincial legislature. His wife, Christine Elliott, is deputy leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives, the AFN noted.

The federal government set up an public Book of Condolences online. The last federal politician to get a state funeral was Jack Layton in 2011, the opposition New Democratic Party leader who was also known for championing the issues of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and tying aboriginal prosperity to the country’s well-being as a whole. He passed on due to cancer. 

RELATED: Atleo Blessing Helps Bid Final Farewell to Jack Layton