Jim Flaherty is a pugnacious little jerk. Short in stature, he has the cruel eyes of a fighter, and the bent nose to go with it. Torontonians never warmed to him as a Harris-era minister at Queen’s Park, and many were unpleasantly surprised when, in 2006, he was elected to Ottawa and became Stephen Harper’s finance minister. Then he weasled his way into our good graces.
With time, Flahery transformed himself from a ferocious ideologue into a ferocious pragmatist. Educated at Princeton, he’s as savvy as any bank CEO, yet he doesn’t look, think or behave like one—he’s just the guy to have in charge of the banks. He is as likely to piss off bank executives and policy-wonk economists (by killing income trusts or cutting the GST) as he is to please them (by opposing a bank tax at the G20, championing a national securities regulator, or running a deficit in order to stimulate a recession-wearied economy). Even his missteps have begun to look like clever ploys. Remember that time he insulted all of Ontario by calling the province the last place in Canada that anyone should invest? Since then, the Ontario government has harmonized sales taxes and cut corporate tax rates, especially for small business. And Flaherty’s stimulus plan, unlike those in the United States and many other countries, appears to have worked.
He turned out to be an effective caretaker, and unlikely champion, of Bay Street. Notably, he’s the only Harper minister who has lasted the entire five-plus years in the same portfolio. Not bad for a guy who openly professes no love for the Street. The feeling is mutual: though the banks respect him, they don’t line up to sing his praises. But what’s wrong with that? When Paul Martin was finance minister, we all had the quiet impression that the banks were truly running the shop. No one ever thinks that now.