The finance minister’s new shoes: a purely Canadian, though mysterious, tradition

WATCH: Minister of Finance Joe Oliver kept with tradition Monday by embracing a new pair of sneakers ahead of the federal budget announcement. The move was in tribute to his predecessor, the late Jim Flaherty.

OTTAWA —It’s tradition as old as … well, we’re not sure actually.

Almost every year, some time before delivering his budget speech to the House of Commons, the finance minister buys new shoes. It’s a thing. Joe Oliver just bought his first pair Monday morning — a pair of New Balance (get it?) sneakers with blue (get it?) laces.

Unlike many parliamentary traditions, though, this one doesn’t seem to come from the British, where the tradition is refreshment-based rather than fashion-based.

READ MORE: What Canadians want to see in the 2015 federal budget

Westminster tradition calls for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring in a box carrying any liquid refreshment of his choosing to imbibe while delivering the budget speech, according to the Library of Parliament. (The Brits also have a much fancier title for the head of the office, but I digress.)

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Hitting a wall in Britain, the brilliant and tireless Library researchers on this side of the pond dug and dug to figure out how and when exactly the shoe tradition started in Canada.

Federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver shows off his new budget shoes during a photo op in Toronto on Monday, April 20, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Unfortunately, they came up empty handed, despite speaking with every finance minister/their office from Douglas C. Abbott, who was finance minister from 1946 to 1954 to Michael Wilson, who was finance minister under Brian Mulroney beginning in 1984.

Though many of the ministers the researchers interviewed took part, none was aware of the origins of the “tradition,” the Library found.

“Our research shows that only eight finance ministers wore new shoes on budget day, and even here there is some variation. Donald Fleming was the first for whom we found a record, followed by ministers [Mitchell] Sharp, [Jean] Chrétien, [Marc] Lalonde, Wilson, [Paul] Martin (who wore new boots as a gift from Jean Chrétien), [Ralph] Goodale and [Jim] Flaherty,” the researchers wrote.
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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty buys a pair of new shoes May 1, 2006, which were made in Canada. CP Photo / Jake Wright
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tries on a pair of shoes during a pre-budget photo op in Gatineau, Quebec Monday, Jan. 26, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty leaves a shoe shop after buying a pair of shoes at a store in Whitby Ontario on Monday March 1, 2010 during a tradional photo op ahead of this week's federal budget. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty shows off his newly re-soled shoes during a pre-budget photo opportunity at Healthy Feet Shoe Repair in Ottawa on Monday, March 22, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty puts on his annual pre-budget shoes at the Roots Leather Factory in Toronto on March 20, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Finance Minister Michael Wilson is pictured showing off his new shoes prior to the upcoming federal budget on Feb. 20, 1986 in Ottawa. The Canadian Press
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Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner shines his shoes in advance of the Alberta budget which will be announced Thursday, at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, Alberta on Wednesday, March 6, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
B.C. Finance Minister Michael de Jong tries on his 2015 budget dress shoes at Olde Town Shoe Repair in Victoria, B.C. Monday, February 16, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale jokingly shows off his new budget shoes following a news conference regarding the federal budget that he tabled in the House of Commons earlier in Ottawa Tuesday, March 23, 2004. CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale shows off his new shoes following a news conference in Ottawa. Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2005. CP PHOTO/Jonathan Hayward
This is an April 10, 1978, photo of then Finance Minister Jean Chretien kicking up his heels and baring the sole of one of his new pair of shoes as he left the Parliament Building in Ottawa after presenting his budget. This is an April 10, 1978, photo of then Finance Minister Jean Chretien kicking up his heels and baring the sole of one of his new pair of shoes as he left the Parliament Building in Ottawa after presenting his budget.
Walking alongside Prime Minister Clark as he makes his way to the Commons to deliver his first budget Dec. 11, 1979, in Ottawa. Finance Minister John Crosbie (left) lifts his pant leg to display his new boots. PHOTO/Bill Grimshaw

So those spread from the late 1950s, beginning with Fleming, through to present day.

The earliest mention of new shoes for budget day researchers found was in a March 1960 newspaper article. Though the report alluded to the “tradition,” it failed to offer any insight to its origin.

All told, there’s no denying the purchase has become a tried and true Canadian tradition in which even provinces take part.

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Ministers have, however, decided to forego new shoes in some years, usually during a recession or economic downturn, according to data collected by Parliament.

Martin, for example, wore the work boots for his first budget in 1994, but that was it. For each of his budgets from 1995 to 2001, he wore a pair from his closet.

Flaherty, who passed away last year shortly after leaving public office, also took the economical route more than once, wearing either an old pair or re-soled shoes.

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