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Longtime Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty dies

TORONTO — Just three weeks after stepping down, former longtime Canadian finance minister Jim Flaherty, a fixture on the world financial stage, has died. He was 64.

Flaherty's family released a statement that said he died Thursday in Ottawa. Mike Harris, Ontario's former premier and a friend, said he suffered a massive heart attack.

Flaherty, who had the job since 2006, was the longest-serving finance minister among the Group of Seven leading industrial economies until he announced he was stepping down March 18 to return to the private sector. He battled a rare skin disease over the last year, but had said his decision to leave politics was not related.

Flaherty was Prime Minister Stephen Harper's only finance minister since Harper took power eight years ago. He is credited with helping get Canada back on track to a balanced budget after pumping stimulus money into the economy following the 2008 financial crisis.

The House of Commons in Ottawa abruptly suspended business as word of his death circulated and the finance ministers of the G-20 paid tribute to Flaherty at the start of their meetings in Washington on Thursday.

Australian Treasury Minister Joe Hockey, the current G-20 chairman, opened the group's meeting at International Monetary Fund headquarters by describing Flaherty as a "'very decent man heartfelt in his determination to deliver to Canada a better quality of life."

"Canada is poorer for his passing and we are all poorer," he said.

His successor, Joe Oliver, said Flaherty delivered 10 budgets "and never wavered in his determination to build a better country. He was a great statesman."

Mark Carney, the Canadian who is the new governor of the Bank of England, said Flaherty played a key role in getting the G-20 off the ground and helping it deal with the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftermath,

"He was a true believer in multilateralism and urged members to pursue the right policies and believed in fixing banks, balancing budgets and adopting sound monetary policies," Carney said.

Harper addressed members of his government in brief comments that were televised across the nation.

"I learned a short while ago that our colleague, my partner and my friend, Jim Flaherty, has passed away suddenly today," said Harper. "This comes as an unexpected and a terrible shock ..."

Opposition New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair choked back tears as he expressed condolences to the family.

"We're very, very sad at the loss of a great Canadian. Jim Flaherty was an extraordinarily dedicated public servant," Mulcair said.

The flag on the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa was lowered to half-mast.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement that Flaherty was admired and respected by leaders throughout the world.

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In this March 3 file photo, Jim Flaherty responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

(AP)

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