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Former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham speaks at a Canadian Club luncheon in Vancouver on April 15, 2003.CHUCK STOODY/CP

Condolences from Canadian politicians past and present poured out Monday as they learned about the death of Bill Graham, who served as foreign affairs minister when the country decided against joining the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Mr. Graham will be remembered as a master negotiator and a skilled statesman who shared his love for Canada with the world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement.

Former Liberal MP John English said Mr. Graham had cancer and died peacefully Sunday after being in poor health for some time.

“He was a fun guy. I went out with him for drinks just three or four weeks ago. He wasn’t drinking. He enjoyed a good glass of wine but he couldn’t join us,” he recalled.

“He’s such a wonderful presence. So positive, so optimistic. He’s a person to be taken seriously, but he never took himself seriously. He was full of laughter. He laughed very easily.”

Mr. Graham, 83, was serving as chancellor of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Both he and his wife, Catherine, were students there and married in the chapel. They had two children: Katy and Patrick.

Mr. Graham was first elected as a Liberal member of Parliament for the riding then known as Toronto Centre-Rosedale in 1993, after two unsuccessful runs.

Former colleagues eulogized him as a skilled MP, having spent time on the backbenches before entering cabinet, and someone who demonstrated a deep passion about helping those in his community.

George Smitherman, who represented the same downtown Toronto area for the Liberals provincially as Mr. Graham had federally, said Mr. Graham had a remarkable way of connecting with people, no matter their background.

Mr. Smitherman, who is gay, said he first arrived in what is now known as Toronto Centre as a kid finding comfort with his sexuality and at the time Mr. Graham and the local Liberals had embedded AIDS activism in their politics.

“That, to me, was one of the most defining attributes of the way political parties ought to operate,” Mr. Smitherman said.

Longtime Liberal MP John McKay said Graham was a “complete politician.”

“A good constituency person, a good national person and a good international person. Not many people can say that,” said Mr. McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood.

“He was [an] immensely smart, decent, classy man,” he added.

In January, 2002, months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the world, Mr. Graham was appointed to serve in cabinet as foreign affairs minister by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien.

At that time, Canada had to decide whether to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and then navigate its relationship with its closest ally when it opted against doing so.

Mr. Graham was roundly praised for not only assisting in that decision, but his overall handling of the role at a turbulent time in international relations.

“He was an outstanding minister of foreign affairs and a skilled parliamentarian,” tweeted John Baird, who served as foreign affairs minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin released a statement after learning of Graham’s death, saying he “helped our government and the country navigate a challenging period of history as we deployed into Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.”

“His loss will be felt by all who knew or worked with him.”

Longtime Liberal cabinet minister Carolyn Bennett said she remembers Graham as someone who was comfortable around everyone and a generous listener in conversation.

“There’s no one else you’d rather have dinner with. And I think that’s what a lot of us feel,” she said Monday.

“He just was so special. It’s just really hard to believe he’s gone,” Ms. Bennett said, her voice breaking.

– With files from Allison Jones and Jordan Omstead in Toronto