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Business leaders describe Flaherty's economic leadership as global in scope

TORONTO - Former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty was remembered by the business community on Thursday for his steady hand and determined leadership in Canada and on the world stage through the 2008-09 financial crisis.

"He was a source of strength and financial leadership for the country during what was probably the most challenging economic period since the Great Depression," said Gord Nixon, the head of Royal Bank of Canada (TSX:RY).

"(Flaherty) provided great global leadership. I think he would be recognized by his peers as being not just a source of strength to Canada but a leading voice in terms of dealing with what was a global crisis."

Flaherty, 64, a father of triplet sons, died suddenly Thursday at his Ottawa home, less than a month after he retired as the Harper government's first and only finance minister. He spent eight years in the job, helping bring the economy through the banking collapse on Wall Street and the fall out from the disaster.

"My thoughts go to his wife, to the boys," International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde said in Washington, where Flaherty was a fixture at G20 and IMF meetings.

"We had a chat in Sydney, and a laugh. I would never have imagined he wouldn't be with us. He was a friend."

As finance minister, Flaherty opened the spending taps during the economic crisis, running a $56-billion deficit, bailing out the auto sector and spending freely to boost the ailing economy.

He also became a leading voice during the crisis globally and earned international recognition for his efforts.

In recent years, he returned to his fiscal conservative roots and moved to tighten spending to put the federal budget back on track to return to surplus.

Nixon said Flaherty wasn't always easy to deal with because he "didn't always see eye-to-eye" with Canadian banks, but the sector knew that he was fair.

Flaherty rankled the Canadian investment community when he backed away from a campaign pledge by taxing income trusts like corporations.

He has also took heat when he publicly chided BMO last year for lowering the its key five-year mortgage rate, warning the super-low rate could help overheat the housing market.

"There were certainly areas where we had different views but I think he was balanced in terms of his approach," Nixon said. "Jim was very much a policy person who focused on what was the right thing and what was in the best interest of the country... and that is very difficult sometimes for a politician to do because politics is politics."

The Investment Industry Association of Canada called it a "very sad day."

"There is little doubt he will go down in history as one of Canada’s most effective finance ministers," said IIAC president and CEO Ian Russell in a statement.

The Canadian Bankers Association also paid tribute to the role Flaherty played in helping Canada emerge from the 2008 economic crisis.

"In our dealings with him, we always appreciated his candour, dedication and sense of humour," said Terry Campbell, president.

The Canadian Press

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