Jean Pelletier, one of former prime minister Jean Chretien's closest confidants and a focal point of the Gomery commission, has died in Quebec City at the age of 73.

Pelletier died Saturday morning at the Maison Michel-Sarrazin, a hospice for cancer patients in the final stages of their disease. Before he died, the former mayor of Quebec City was visited by friends and family, along with current mayor Regis Labeaume and Chretien, his old colleague.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff praised Pelletier in a statement Saturday saying "he helped the Liberal government get Canada's economy back on track and played a major role in keeping Canada united in the aftermath of the 1995 Quebec referendum."

Ignatieff also said he consulted Pelletier after becoming Liberal leader.

"Despite his mortal illness, he offered the same calm thoughtful and wise counsel that he has offered to prime ministers and leaders of our party. I was moved by his courage and his sang-froid and I rejoice in his example," Ignatieff said.

Pelletier was a well-known figure in the provincial capital, which UNESCO recognized as a world heritage site under his leadership. But while he had many successes during his political career, the one-time journalist became a well-known national figure during the federal sponsorship scandal.

The former Chretien chief-of-staff was criticized by retired judge John Gomery, who conducted a probe into the scandal in which ad agencies were paid large sums by the Liberal government for little or no work.

Gomery said that Pelletier and Chretien bore some responsibility for the scandal, but in the summer of 2008, a federal court struck down the finding. His friend Eddie Goldenberg told The Canadian Press that the decision was a "total vindication" for Pelletier and Chretien.

Pelletier also went to court after former prime minister Paul Martin fired him from his job as head of Via Rail in 2004. He was let go after he called Olympic gold-medal winner Myriam Bedard a "pitiful" single mother and attention-seeker after she alleged there were ties between Via and the sponsorship scandal.

Pelletier apologized for his remarks. He also sued Ottawa for the dismissal and for damage to his reputation. In November 2007, he was awarded more than $335,000 in moral damages.

Political analysts at one time described Pelletier as one of Canada's most powerful men. Observers described him as an elegant and polite man, who could also be dictatorial. Friends and foes alike said he had an iron fist in a velvet glove, earning him the nicknames the "elegant executioner" and "velvet executioner."

He was an officer of the Order of Canada and the Order of Quebec. He was also a commander of France's Legion of Honour.

"Jean Pelletier was a man of great integrity who served his city, his province and his country with enormous dedication and integrity all of his life," said Goldenberg.

Pelletier is survived by his wife Helene and their two children, Jean and Marie.

With files from The Canadian Press