Politicians at the Ontario legislature, where Jim Flaherty got his start in politics, were mourning the loss of their one-time colleague and friend Thursday.

In a brief statement to reporters, Premier Kathleen Wynne said all of Queen’s Park was in shock.

Wynne, who served opposite Flaherty from 2003 to 2005, said he was a “feisty, articulate spirit in this place.”

“Canada has lost a great Canadian,” Wynne told reporters. “Jim Flaherty was a determined servant of the people who worked hard to represent his constituents in Whitby-Oshawa and their needs.

“I want to express my gratitude for his service to Ontario and to Canada and express my sorrow and sympathy to Mr. Flaherty’s family, colleagues and friends.”

Flaherty became an MPP in 1995, representing the riding of Whitby-Ajax. He held several high-profile cabinet posts over the next decade at Queen’s Park, including labour, finance and deputy premier.

He maintained close ties to the Ontario political scene after moving onto federal politics in 2006. His wife Christine Elliott is an MPP, currently representing Flaherty’s old provincial riding.

MPP Frank Klees, who competed with Flaherty in the 2004 Ontario PC leadership race said Flaherty was a respectful, principled politician.

“He was never going to back down on a debate,” Klees said. “He knew what he believed, he believed it passionately, he knew why he believed it and he was willing to put it all on the line.”

“You could disagree with Jim; you could not dislike him,” Klees added.

Former Ontario premier Ernie Eves called Flaherty “a class act” who steered Canada out of turbulent economic times.

“He has to go down as certainly one of the greatest, if not the greatest finance ministers the country has ever seen,” Eves told CTV News Channel.

Eves, who successfully ran against Flaherty in 2002 for the leadership of the Ontario PCs, said his colleague “fought the battle hard” but was always fair.

“He had a huge heart and I don’t think that that side of Jim ever got out in the public as much as it should have,” Eves said. “He was tremendously dedicated to those less fortunate in society.”

Another former Ontario premier, Mike Harris, said Flaherty will be remembered for his political and finance skills, but “I loved him because he was an honest, good guy.”

Current Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa tweeted that Flaherty “was a man of great integrity. My thoughts & prayers are with Christine & family. He was a champion for Canada. We’ll miss him.”

In a statement, PC Leader Tim Hudak said Flaherty’s sudden death was “a huge blow to the heart, both personally and politically.”

“People like Jim are few and far between, and irreplaceable,” Hudak said.

Flaherty delivered his last federal budget shortly before announcing his retirement from politics on March 18. At the time, Flaherty said the government was on course to deliver a balanced budget in 2015.

PC MPP John O’Toole said it was “tragic” that Flaherty did not get to “share in the glory” of his contributions to Ontario and Canada following his retirement.

In a brief statement at city hall, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford said Flaherty will be remembered as a “relentless fighter and a champion for the people.”

Flaherty was a close friend of the Ford family, having worked with Ford’s late father Doug Ford Sr. when he was an Ontario MPP.

Fighting back tears, Ford said Flaherty will be “deeply missed by everyone who had the good fortune of knowing him.”