04/10/2014 02:12 EDT | Updated 04/10/2014 08:59 EDT

Jim Flaherty, Former Finance Minister, Dead At 64

Former finance minister Jim Flaherty has died at the age of 64.

Flaherty, one of Canada's longest-serving finance ministers, resigned from cabinet in March. He had been Prime Minister Stephen Harper's only finance minister since the Conservatives were elected to power in 2006.

Ottawa police confirmed Flaherty died of a heart attack early Thursday afternoon.

Flaherty and his wife, Ontario MPP Christine Elliott, have 22-year-old triplet sons — John, Galen, and Quinn.

The family released a statement Thursday afternoon saying Flaherty "passed away peacefully in Ottawa."

"We appreciate he was so well-supported in public life by Canadians from coast to coast to coast and by his international colleagues," it read.

Harper addressed his caucus later in the afternoon, calling Flaherty's passing "an unexpected and terrible shock to Jim's family, to our caucus, to Laureen and me."

The prime minister called Flaherty a partner and friend.

"It is with the heaviest of hearts that I offer my family's condolences," he said. "Christine, Quinn, Galen and John, you're in all of our thoughts and prayers."

The Ottawa Citizen reported that Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, a medical doctor, administered CPR to Flaherty before paramedics arrived at his condo.

Leitch and Flaherty lived in the same building, and she credited the former finance minister for encouraging her to enter politics. She was visibly upset during Harper's press conference about Flaherty's death.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair fought back tears while addressing reporters.

"Catherine and I want to express to Christine Elliott our profound sadness at the departure of our friend Jim Flaherty. All his colleagues in the House of Commons share in that loss," Mulcair said.

"Jim Flaherty was an extraordinary, dedicated public servant. He will be greatly missed by all of us."

In a statement, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Flaherty was a dedicated Parliamentarian with "a strong social conscience" who was committed to the ideal of public service.

"He was a proud Canadian and showed continued devotion and commitment to his country over many years," Trudeau said in the statement. "This is a loss to the entire family in the House of Commons."

Flaherty, who represented the Ontario riding of Whitby-Oshawa since 2006 after a long career in Ontario politics, had been struggling with a rare skin condition — bullous pemphigoid. The condition was not thought to be life-threatening.

When he stepped down on March 18, Flaherty said in a statement his health issues were not the reason for his resignation.

"I am happy to report that I am on the road to a full recovery and the decision to leave politics was not related in any way to my health," he said in a statement. "This decision was made because it is the right one for me and my family at this time."

The House of Commons abruptly suspended its sitting before question period began. The Peace Tower flag was lowered to haf-mast in his honour. The Ontario legislature, where Flaherty sat for a decade, also held a moment's silence for him and recessed.

Politicians of all stripes took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to share condolences.

With files from The Canadian Press

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