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OTTAWA - Months of speculation over Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's health and appearance ended Thursday when a national daily newspaper published a deeply personal interview with him that revealed the popular 63-year-old federal treasurer suffers from a rare skin condition.
Flaherty told the Toronto-based Globe and Mail that he was diagnosed last fall with bullous pemphigoid, an autoimmune dermatological disorder that produces blistering and is characterized by such symptoms as itching, rashes, mouth sores and bleeding gums.
He is being treated with prednisone, a strong steroid, which carries such side effects as bloating, puffiness and significant weight gain, all of which he has displayed.
However, the condition is "not life threatening," said Flaherty, "and it doesn't affect my job."
He told Canada's largest circulation national newspaper that he was "getting too many questions" about his appearance and his weight gain, and reluctantly decided to respond on the record because he holds public office.
"It's a passing physical problem that is not debilitating and that is getting better," said Flaherty, who was asked by a few people whether he had cancer or was "going to die."
Other characteristics, such as a red-face and slurred speech, the latter of which was revealed in a January 25 interview with Bloomberg TV on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum' s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, prompted some speculation within Parliament Hill circles that the Finance Minister was struggling with alcoholism.
However, he told the Globe that while he's a social drinker, he only consumes one or two glasses of wine, or has "a beer or two" while he is taking the medication.
Flaherty said the skin disease has not prevented him from working on the next federal budget and "would like to stay" until Canada generates a positive balance sheet by, as he hopes, 2015. He added that his skin condition began last year when he worked on the last budget.
A former finance minister in Canada' s largest province of Ontario, Quebec-born Flaherty has served in that role at the national level in Prime Minister Stephen Harper' s Cabinet since the federal Conservatives came to power in 2006.
Last October, Canadian Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield suffered a heart attack and was off the job for a few months, while Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver underwent heart-bypass surgery earlier this month, but remained on the job during his convalescence.