© Canadian Press photo
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tables the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014.
Sheridan, Harper, Kenney likely happy to see federal finance minister leave
There are four people on the Canadian political scene who are likely very elated this week. The first is former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty who resigned the most burdensome and thankless post in the federal cabinet after eight years. The other three are Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Employment Minister Jason Kenney and P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, all of whom are equally relieved to see Mr. Flaherty leave.
Mr. Sheridan hasn’t had much success prying money from federal coffers of late. While MP Gail Shea will argue that federal transfer payments to P.E.I. have increased every year, Mr. Sheridan will argue just the opposite, claiming that health care and other federal funds have shrunk and the province is really feeling the fiscal pinch.
Mr. Sheridan thought he had a deal with Mr. Flaherty on a supplemental pension income plan for the provinces but the federal minister abruptly changed his mind, leaving P.E.I., Ontario and Manitoba scrambling to pick up the pieces and proceed on their own. Then Mr. Flaherty clashed with Mr. Sheridan and other provinces over renewing the Canada Jobs Grant program, which Ottawa threatened to launch unilaterally. It was then up to Mr. Kenney to compromise with the provinces to save that deal.
Infrastructure dollars had stalled while a new deal was hammered out. It got barely mentioned in the federal budget last month and it was up to the prime minister himself to provide additional details afterwards. It was a topic seemingly of little interest to his former finance minister.
Prime Minister Harper would prefer not to share centre stage next year when the federal budget officially comes in as balanced. If Mr. Flaherty was still on the job, he would claim most of the credit, and rightfully so. The PM will only be too glad to bask in the glory all by himself.
Mr. Harper had clashed with Mr. Flaherty on budget issues, especially income splitting. It was a Conservative election promise put aside until the budget came in at balance so it will take effect next year, just in time for the federal election in the fall. Mr. Flaherty was increasingly opposed to the plan, described as mostly benefitting high-income Canadians.
Mr. Flaherty was outspoken in recent months and cared little if he crossed swords with the PM or other members of caucus. One of those fellow cabinet ministers he seemed to relish battling was the ambitious Mr. Kenney, also a big supporter of income splitting. When Mr. Kenney urged Toronto Mayor Rob Ford to resign because he was a national embarrassment, Mr. Flaherty came to the support of his longtime family friend and swore at Mr. Kenney publicly.
Mr. Kenney must be secretly elated to see a possible rival for the party leadership leave the scene. This will likely be Mr. Harper’s last campaign and should he win, a possible scenario suggests he will announce his plans to step aside by 2017, hold a leadership convention in 2018 and have a new leader at the helm for the 2019 campaign. Mr. Kenney is hopeful he will be that new leader.
Mr. Flaherty has done his duty after taking a balanced budget under the federal Liberals, recording a record deficit to stimulate the economy and help Canada survive the worldwide recession which struck in 2008, and then brought the books back to balance, all in eight tumultuous years. Ill health, family commitments, caucus battles and a desire to make money in the private sector while he’s still young enough to do so, all convinced Mr. Flaherty to step down.
He deserves a break.