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Jim Flaherty honoured at state funeral in Toronto

Canada’s political elite gathered on Tuesday to pay their final respects to Jim Flaherty, the former finance minister whose sudden death last week spurred an outpouring of grief that has stretched across the country and across party lines.

A state funeral began at 3 p.m. at St. James Cathedral at 65 Church St. in downtown Toronto.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper was the first to speak.

“What a sad time this is for our country,” Harper said. “This has been a traumatic time for so many of us.”

Directly addressing Flaherty’s wife Christine Elliott and the couple’s triplet sons, Harper said, “We have lost a partner in politics, but you have lost a partner in life.”

“There are so many ways I could describe The Honourable Jim Flaherty,” he continued. “He was a man who was highly principled and ruthlessly pragmatic, combative but engaging, smart and educated, while never assuming that he knew it all.”

One of the most touching moments came when the prime minister addressed himself directly to Flaherty’s three sons, John, Galen and Quinn.

“I lost my own father almost exactly 11 years ago, to the day,” he said. “That period, I remember almost nothing of what I said or what was said to me, so powerful were the waves of emotion.

“But once that passed and perspective took hold, I came to appreciate my father’s place in my life probably even more fully and deeply than if he were still here. And it is all good, and it will be all good for you.”

“Farewell to our dear friend Jim,” Harper concluded. “On behalf of our grateful country, we thank you.”

Flaherty’s sister Norah told the story of how their mother once discovered him throwing pennies in the trash — a foreshadowing, perhaps, of his decision in 2012 to do away with the costly one-cent piece.

“When Mum asked Jim why he was throwing out the pennies, he said, ‘They’re not worth anything,'” she said. “Somewhat prophetic.”

A sombre but composed Elliott was effusive in her praise of her husband.

“He was the most intelligent man I ever met, and his clarity of thought was unparalleled,” she said.

“He was a proud Canadian who loved our great country, and even when his life became more difficult in the last year or so, he persevered until he was certain he would leave things in order for his successor.”

Added Quinn, in a poignant message to his father: “Put your feet up, lay your head back, close your eyes and relax. We will take it from here.”

Flaherty, 64, died of a heart attack in his Ottawa condo on April 10 despite frantic efforts by a cabinet colleague to resuscitate him.

His death, which came less than a month after his retirement, sent shockwaves through the national capital, where flags have been flying at half-mast and the Peace Tower has been bathed in green light, a tribute to his Irish heritage.

Hundreds of dignitaries and citizens lined up to pay their respects Tuesday at the Abilities Centre in Whitby, which caters to the disabled and able-bodied alike. Harper arrived late in the day for a private viewing.

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, a Flaherty confidante who rushed to his condo in an attempt to revive her friend and had dinner with him on the eve of his death, also paid her respects. An emotional Leitch blew a kiss to his casket.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell and John Turner were among those on hand for the funeral, as were various federal cabinet ministers, including John Baird, Peter MacKay and Chris Alexander.

Gov. Gen. David Johnston and Mark Carney, the former Bank of Canada governor who now heads the Bank of England, are also in attendance.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose friendship with Flaherty caused the diminutive finance minister some uncomfortable moments in the media spotlight last year, also attended, along with his brother, Doug.

Mourners filed into a low-lit room in the city east of Toronto, where Flaherty’s Maple Leaf-draped casket lay between two Mounties in ceremonial dress. Flaherty’s widow — Ontario MPP Christine Elliott — and the couple’s triplet sons stood on one side as Irish tunes played softly from speakers.

Flaherty’s state funeral is the first such honour since 2011, when former NDP leader Jack Layton was laid to rest. State funerals are customarily only given to current or former prime ministers, governors general, sitting cabinet ministers or members of the Royal Family.

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Road closures for state funeral

As of 6 p.m. on Monday, Church Street between King Street and Adelaide Street was designated as an emergency “no stopping” zone in both directions. This was to allow preparations for the funeral.

As of 9 a.m. on Wednesday, King Street East will be closed to traffic between Jarvis Street and Church Street.

Streetcars will continue to run until 10 a.m. and then will be diverted.

On Wednesday at 10 a.m., Church will be closed between King and Adelaide. Southbound Jarvis will be closed between Adelaide and King and Adelaide will be closed between Church and Jarvis.

Below is the route map: