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Fond farewell to Jim Flaherty

A gallery of political luminaries from all sides of the partisan divide gathered at a cavernous Toronto cathedral Wednesday to set aside their differences and pay final respects to former finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Mourners donned green scarves, a tribute to Flaherty's Irish heritage, as they entered the downtown St. James Cathedral to remember Flaherty, 64, who died of a heart attack last week in his Ottawa condominium.

"What a sad time this is in the life of our country," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who began the proceedings with an upbeat personal tribute to his longtime political confidante.

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."

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

Harper and his wife Laureen arrived in advance of the cortege, followed by Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife Sharon. Harper exchanged pleasantries with Mulroney and shook hands with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne as they sat down.

At one point, Mulroney and Turner, famous political rivals, were seen to exchange smiles and nods.

A host of familiar faces from the Ontario legislature — former premier Ernie Eves and Conservative Leader Tim Hudak among them — were also present.

Before the proceedings got underway, a choir assembled behind the altar and an organist filled the chamber with hymnal music as mourners awaited the arrival of the cortege carrying Flaherty's casket.

The entire federal Conservative caucus was invited, as well as all current provincial premiers and finance ministers, as well as living former prime ministers and governors general.

Large white tents were erected on the lawn of the cathedral. Across the street from the church, a phalanx of TV cameras documented the arrival of family, friends and dignitaries.

Onlookers began gathering several hours before the ceremony was scheduled to begin. One man had his patriotism on full display, wearing a white jacket adorned with a red maple leaf and clutching a Canadian flag.

The busy downtown Toronto streets surrounding the church were closed to all vehicular traffic, except for streetcars.

The ceremonial journey of the casket began in Whitby, Ont., and proceeded along Highway 401, down the Don Valley Parkway and through downtown Toronto before its scheduled arrival at the church just before 3 p.m. ET.

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