Disability Community Mourns Jim Flaherty

Jim Flaherty's Final Tweet

Jim Flaherty’s Final Tweet

Ottawa, Canada – The disability community lost a true champion last Thursday with the death of former Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty. He died of a heart attack less than one month following his retirement after serving as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s finance minister since 2006. He was 64 years-old.

He is best known as the creator of the registered disability savings plan (RDSP), a program which allows families in Canada to open tax-free savings accounts on behalf of children living with disabilities. The proceeds are used to fund medical and daily living expenses, and do not hamper an individual’s ability to qualify for federal aid. More than 81,000 Canadians have registered for an RDSP to date, and Ottawa has contributed close to 1-billion. Jack Styan, vice-president of strategic initiatives at Community Living, B.C., says,

“There’s nothing remotely like this anywhere else in the world. It’s Mr. Flaherty’s legacy.”

Flaherty was also an active supporter of Special Olympics, and championed the inclusion of individuals with special needs in the workplace and other aspects of daily life. Laurie Beachell, co-ordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities said,

“The disability community in Canada has lost a true champion. What we appreciated most was that people with disabilities were a central part of his message and actions. It was not an add-on or tokenism.”

Flaherty’s passion for helping those in the special-needs community stemmed from his personal experiences raising a child who suffered from a severe developmental disability after contracting encephalitis as an infant. In 2010, he published an article for the Canadian Association for Community Living entitled What Heaven Looks Like, quoting his son’s description of the Great Barrier Reef during a family vacation.

His last budget included a $10.8 million grant to Special Olympics Canada. Sharon Bollenbach, CEO of Special Olympics Canada, said,

“Mr. Flaherty believed that sport is for everyone, even those with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics is a catalyst for social change and promotes a more inclusive society and he believed passionately in that.”

Flaherty made several other contributions to Canadian citizens with disabilities during his career, including the Enabling Accessibility Fund, which provided grants to make facilities and technology more accessible to individuals with disabilities, and the working income tax benefit, to help working Canadians living below poverty.

Funeral arrangements are set for Wednesday at St. James Cathedral in Toronto. Visitation will be at the Abilities Centre at 55 Gordon St. in Whitby, Ont. on Tuesday from 12:30p.m. to 4:00p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The funeral is at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday at St. James Cathedral at 65 Church Street in downtown Toronto.

Flaherty’s family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Abilities Center.

Canadian citizens are mourning the loss of a dedicated public servant who championed the underdog, and was taken far too soon. Many take comfort in his final tweet,

“It has been an honor to serve Canada. Thank you for the opportunity.”