'Steady hand' Jim Flaherty resigns as Canada's finance minister

Long-serving minister, who led nation through global financial crisis, to be succeeded by Joe Oliver, Canada's public broadcaster reports

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 8:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 4:20am

Jim Flaherty, Canada's long-serving Conservative finance minister, who helped steer the nation's economy through the global financial crisis, has resigned from the cabinet, though leaving the country on track to balance its books by next year

Canada's Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver was named to succeed Flaherty.

"I just named Joe Oliver Canada's new finance minister. He will continue to strengthen the economy and balance the budget by 2015," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a Twitter message.

The resignation of Flaherty, 64, has ended the third-longest stint as finance minister in the country's history.

He has been suffering greatly from a rare, non-life-threatening skin disease, but denied it was linked to his resignation.

"Yesterday, I informed the prime minister that I am resigning from cabinet," he said on Tuesday.

"This was a decision I made with my family earlier this year, as I will be returning to the private sector.

"I am happy to report 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."

Analysts said Canada's Conservative government was likely to stick with the plan to balance the budget next year.

Oliver, 73, the former investment banker, worked for many years with Merrill Lynch. He was elected as an MP in 2011.

He is the government's main supporter of TransCanada Corp's controversial Keystone XL pipeline to the United States.

Two government sources said Oliver was the ideal choice because of his financial industry expertise, and because he represented a district in the politically valuable Toronto area.

Greg Rickford will take over from Oliver as natural resources minister, a post the former investment banker held since first elected to the House of Commons in 2011.

Flaherty, who is a lawyer, is an outspoken man who was quick on his feet in parliamentary debates, and equally comfortable picking a fight or cracking a joke. He has been at the side of the prime minister since the Conservatives came to power in 2006.

He cut business and sales taxes, raised spending to stimulate the economy and put through a record deficit in nominal dollar terms to counter the recession. But as the economy recovered, he cut government operations to try to drive that deficit to zero.

Amid speculation he might step aside to focus on his health, Flaherty stubbornly and repeatedly promised to stay working until the budget was balanced.

The budget plan he presented last month shows that this will be achieved next year.

Flaherty said for the first time last month that he might not run for re-election. He will remain a member of parliament for now. Harper said he had accepted Flaherty's resignation "with great reluctance" and praised his efforts.

"In a political career of almost 20 years, Flaherty has exemplified the best qualities of those who enter public life: a true commitment to service, and a sincere desire to leave the country in better shape than it was when he entered politics," Harper said.

"Since 2006, he has been a steady hand, ably guiding Canada through the most challenging economic times since the Great Depression and gaining the country a solid global reputation for economic management."

Flaherty followed a punishing schedule before 2013, when he revealed he was battling a skin disease that causes painful blisters on the body. The incurable condition can be managed with powerful medication.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse