Canada's veteran finance minister quits, budget surplus in sight

Tue Mar 18, 2014 6:10pm EDT
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By Louise Egan and Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Jim Flaherty, the long-serving Conservative finance minister who helped steer the economy through the global financial crisis, resigned from politics on Tuesday, leaving the country on track to balance its books by 2015.

Flaherty, 64, ends the third-longest stint as finance minister in the country's history. He has been suffering acutely from a rare skin disease, though he denied his resignation had anything to do with health.

Analysts said Canada's Conservative government was likely to stick with the plan to balance the budget in 2015, leaving Flaherty's successor to decide what to do with the surpluses projected for coming years.

Flaherty is an outspoken man who was quick on his feet in parliamentary debates and was equally comfortable picking a fight or cracking a joke, and he has been at the side of Prime Minister Stephen Harper ever since the Conservatives took power in 2006. He cut business and sales taxes and then put through a record deficit in nominal dollar terms to counter the recession.

Amid speculation he might step aside to attend to his health, Flaherty stubbornly and repeatedly vowed to stay on the job until the budget was balanced. The budget plan he presented last month shows that will be achieved next year.

"Yesterday, I informed the Prime Minister that I am resigning from Cabinet. This was a decision I made with my family earlier this year, as I will be returning to the private sector," he said in a statement accompanied by a picture of him standing at an office door waving goodbye.

Harper said he would announce Flaherty's replacement in coming days. Leading contenders are believed to be Industry Minister James Moore, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, Foreign Minister John Baird, and Employment Minister Jason Kenney.

There were hints in recent months that Flaherty was eyeing the door. He began to stray from the Conservative Party script in his public comments, most recently initiating a high-profile disagreement with Harper over tax cuts the prime minister had promised in the 2011 election campaign.   Continued...

Canada's Finance Minister Jim Flaherty speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 4, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie