This week, with a visitation in Whitby and a state funeral in Toronto, the country said goodbye to Jim Flaherty, an outstanding, and much admired, Canadian parliamentarian.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Flaherty, but he is one of the few contemporary politicians for whom I have unreserved respect. Even when I didn’t agree with one of his policies, I accepted the sincerity of his principles and understood what he was trying to accomplish.
This week’s ceremonies for Mr. Flaherty spurred a memory of former Newfoundland premier, the late Joey Smallwood.
About forty years ago Mr. Smallwood and I were speakers at a business conference in Kingston, Ontario. As we were chatting during the evening festivities he asked me if I knew exactly where Sir John A. Macdonald’s grave was. Having visited it earlier that day, I assured him I did.
He then asked me if I would take him there the next morning. I assured him I would. There was no way I was going to pass up an opportunity to spend an hour or more with Joey Smallwood in order to attend some boring business session. As it turned out, we spent most of the following morning together.
We had a long, leisurely, enjoyable breakfast during which we exchanged political views, talked hockey, and shared a few anecdotes. Then we drove the few miles to Sir John A’s gravesite in Cataraqui, again chatting all the way. But when we reached the gravesite Mr. Smallwood fell silent.
I will never forget my feeling when I realized that I was standing at the grave of the man who was most responsible for the creation of this great country, the first Father of Confederation, John A. Macdonald, while standing at my side was the last living Father of Confederation, Joseph R. Smallwood.
I remember watching Mr. Smallwood as he reverently gazed at the grave, and I mentally compared the two. Sir John A. is arguably the greatest Conservative his party as ever known, and although there have been Liberal politicians as influential as Mr. Smallwood; none had a greater impact on Canada as a country. But, from our conversation in the car on the way back downtown, it was apparent to me that this dyed-in-the-wool Liberal premier made no bones about the fact that he idolized a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative prime minister; non-partisanship at its finest.
The same non-partisanship was evident at the two farewell ceremonies for Mr. Flaherty this week.
History may show that Jim Flaherty was not as impactful a politician as Joey Smallwood, but I suspect that he was cut from the same cloth.