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

Tue Mar 18, 2014 10:02pm 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 the cabinet 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.

"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.

Analysts said Canada's Conservative government was likely to stick with the plan to balance the budget next year, but there was less certainty about who would succeed Flaherty and how the government would spend surpluses projected for coming years.

Canada's public broadcaster CBC reported that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would succeed Flaherty, without citing sources. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief spokesman, Jason Macdonald, declined to comment on the report.

Two government sources, who declined to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the issues, told Reuters earlier on Tuesday that they believed Oliver was the best candidate for the job because of his extensive financial industry expertise and because he represents a district in the politically valuable Toronto area.

Oliver is currently the government's main proponent of TransCanada Corp's controversial Keystone XL pipeline to the United States.

Other leading contenders are believed to be Industry Minister James Moore, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, Foreign Minister John Baird and Employment Minister Jason Kenney, who all share a conservative fiscal policy in line with Flaherty's.   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