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Joe Oliver becomes Canada’s first Jewish finance minister

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Joe Oliver is sworn in as finance minister

Joe Oliver became Canada’s first Jewish finance minister this week.

He took his oath of office in a discreet March 19 mini Tory cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall, which gave one of the country’s most important posts to a man who made his name on Bay Street, but is a relative political neophyte in Ottawa.

Oliver, who turns 74 in May, succeeded Jim Flaherty, who stepped down the previous day from the cabinet post he held for eight years. Flaherty had been reported to be facing health issues over the last year.

Oliver, who represents the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, is one of three Jewish MPs on Parliament Hill. The others are Liberal Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal) and Conservative Mark Adler (York Centre).

“It’s a great day,” was all that Oliver reportedly said as he arrived for his swearing-in. There was no press conference afterward.

In a statement issued later that day, he said, “I'm honoured that Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper has appointed me to continue on our low-tax plan for jobs and growth as Canada’s minister of finance. I am firmly committed to continuing our Conservative government's steady course of creating jobs and growing the economy in all regions of Canada.

“Although our economic fundamentals are strong, we must protect our gains in the face of global economic uncertainty.”

Oliver will “continue his government’s work to create jobs, strengthen the Canadian economy and balance the budget by 2015,” Harper said in a statement issued by his office earlier in the day.

On hand for the swearing-in were Harper, Gov. Gen. David Johnston, MP Greg Rickford (Kenora), who took over as natural resources minister, Oliver’s previous post, and Ed Holder (London West), who became minister of state for science and technology.

Oliver was first elected in May 2011, defeating Liberal incumbent and former cabinet minister Joe Volpe by several thousand votes. He was quickly named natural resources minister, succeeding Christian Paradis, and spent much of the last three years focused on energy issues, including supporting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

The finance appointment represented a prestigious promotion within cabinet.

Born and raised in Montreal to a dentist father and teacher mother, he earned arts and civil law degrees at McGill University and then an MBA at the Harvard Graduate School of Business.

He went on to a 40-year career in the financial sector as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch, executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission, and as CEO of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada.

Oliver has been a strong supporter of Israel and has spoken and been active in the Jewish community, including as a board member at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

He has visited Israel six times, including three trips as natural resources minister. His latest came in January when he accompanied Harper on the latter’s first visit to the Jewish state, at which time Oliver took part in meetings and roundtable discussions with Israeli business leaders on bilateral issues involving technology and innovation.

Two years ago in Parliament, Oliver accused two Liberal MPs, Wayne Easter and Hedy Fry, of giving Harper a Nazi salute, charges they both vehemently denied.

Oliver is currently married to Golda Goldman, has two sons, Jeffrey and David, and two step-sons, Eric and Jeremy.

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