Jim Flaherty: Stephen Harper’s Paul Martin

·Politics Reporter

Just like Jean Chrétien, Stephen Harper owes much of his political success to his finance minister.

Paul Martin, Chrétien's finance minister for 9 budgets, is often credited for steering Canada out of its dire economic situation of the mid-1990s.

In fiscal year 1994/95, our debt rating was downgraded, the deficit had reached $36.6 billion, and interest costs paid by the government on the national debt reached $44.2 billion, consuming a whopping 33.8 per cent of budget revenues.

Martin introduced a series of austere budgets cutting program spending by $10.4-billion, and slashing transfer payments to the provinces by $4.5 billion.

The measures worked, Martin was lauded both nationally and internationally, and the Chrétien government went on to win two more elections.

This decade's 'Boy Wonder' is none other than Jim Flaherty - Stephen Harper's only ever finance minister.

While countries in Europe and elsewhere continue to struggle to recover from the largest worldwide economic slowdown since the depression, Flaherty is the one credited for keeping Canada on solid financial footing.

David Frum of the National Post goes as far to say Flaherty's latest budget locks up Canada's lead as the "best-governed country among advanced democracies in the world."

"By 2015-2016, Canada will have reduced both spending and debt to pre-recession levels. Nobody else on earth will be able to say anything like that," Frum wrote in a column published Saturday.

"[Canada] responded to the economic crisis by supplying just enough fiscal stimulus. Miscalculate that dosage, and you risk careening from economic crisis to debt crisis."

Miscalculate, and it's perhaps goodbye to a majority government.

To the relief of Stephen Harper, it seems Flaherty doesn't have the same type of immediate ambitions as Paul Martin did.

As Robert Fife wrote in a National Post article in 2000, Paul Martin ultimately orchestrated a silent coup against Chrétien to obtain the Liberal Party leadership.

Would Flaherty do the same to Harper in the future?

Flaherty did twice run for the Ontario Tory leadership, finishing a close second both to Ernie Eves in 2002 and John Tory in 2004. There were also rumours he was mounting a federal leadership bid in case Stephen Harper didn't win the 2006 general election.

Time will tell if the Harper/Flaherty story ends the same way the Chrétien/Martin saga did.

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