The Parti Quebecois issued a statement on Friday confirming Burns' death a day earlier at a palliative-care centre in Boucherville, south of Montreal.
Burns was also one of seven successful PQ candidates in the 1970 election — the first time the sovereigntist party had sent anyone to the national assembly.
Former premier Bernard Landry, who saw his ex-cabinet colleague just a few days before his death, said Burns also played a key role in helping the Rene Levesque government adopt anti-strikebreaker legislation as well as provisions to help people injured on the job.
"(He) was one of the founding pillars of the Parti Quebecois," Landry said in an interview.
"He was an important player in bringing about the social balance and the sharing of wealth in Quebec."
Burns was the cabinet minister responsible for electoral reform in 1977 when Levesque's government passed legislation prohibiting companies from contributing to political parties.
He quit politics in 1979 because of health problems and went on to become a labour-tribunal judge.