TORONTO – Former finance minister Jim Flaherty has passed away “peacefully” on Thursday in Ottawa, according to a statement on behalf of his wife Christine Elliott and her triplet sons, John, Galen and Quinn.
“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,” said the family, asking for privacy at this time.
A government source confirmed to Global News that MP Kellie Leitch administered CPR on Flaherty before paramedics arrived.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the news came as an “unexpected and a terrible shock to Jim’s family, to our caucus and to Laureen and me.”
“I learned a short while ago that our colleague, my partner and my friend, Jim Flaherty, has passed away suddenly today,” said Harper. “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.”
The House of Commons was officially suspended on Thursday afternoon.
Conservative ministers Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay were visibly distraught.
Close family friend Toronto Mayor Rob Ford also shared his condolences in a statement and in a tweet Thursday afternoon:
As soon as the House was suspended, several NDP and Liberal MPs crossed the floor to console Conservative colleagues.
The three-term Ontario MP for Whitby-Oshawa resigned from cabinet March 18, and said he would be returning to the private sector.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s only finance minister since the Conservatives took office in 2006, the long-time politician said he was leaving because it was the right time for him and his family.
In a statement, Flaherty said his decision to leave had nothing to do with his health. He has been battling a rare skin condition, which he revealed publicly in January 2013.
“I am happy to report that I am on the road to a full recovery and the decision to leave politics was not related in any way to my health.
“This decision was made because it is the right one for me and my family at this time.”
Flaherty was treating the rare skin disease—called bullous pemphigoid—with a steroid that causes significant side effects. He revealed the illness to put an end to rumours about his health in the wake of significant weight gain.
“Most people are quite cautious about what they say, but a few people have said to me, ‘Do you have cancer? … What’s going on? Are you going to die?’ That kind of thing,” said Flaherty in January 2013.
The Whitby-Oshawa MP said the skin disorder can produce lesions and is treated with the powerful steroid prednisone. Its long list of side effects include weight gain and puffiness in the face.
Flaherty said his medical issue, diagnosed late 2012, would not affect his ability to do his job.
“I am a pretty tough guy. I’m an old hockey player,” Flaherty told the Globe and Mail.
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.
READ MORE: Political career highlights of Jim Flaherty
He began his political career at the provincial level, serving in a variety of cabinet portfolios in Ontario before making the jump to the Commons.
He became an MP in 2006 as Prime Minister Stephen Harper formed his first government.
Flaherty became finance minister; 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 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.
With files from Global News reporters Laura Stone and John Kennedy and The Canadian Press
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story said Flaherty was aged 63. It has been corrected to indicate he was 64.