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In this Nov. 15, 2006 file photo, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sits in the House of Lords awaiting the Queen's speech during the State Opening of Parliament in London, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2006.Adrian Dennis/The Associated Press

Margaret Thatcher was a giant among leaders who defined contemporary conservatism, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said today as the world reacted to the death of the former British leader.

"While many in positions of power are defined by the times in which they govern, Margaret Thatcher had that rarest of abilities to herself personify and define the age in which she served," Harper said in a statement.

Thatcher, along with Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, played a key role in ending the Cold War, he added.

"The era of peace and prosperity that followed the end of the Cold War must therefore rank as one of her great and lasting gifts to this generation."

Harper said Thatcher's leadership was an example to the world, and he described the legendary British prime minister as deserving of the nickname "the Iron Lady."

He recalled meeting her in London in 2006, saying she offered wise and gracious advice.

Former prime minister Jean Chretien, who dealt with Thatcher extensively during the effort to patriate the Constitution, remembered her fondly, despite political differences.

He said she never troubled him during the patriation fight.

"She was a very colourful and tough prime minister," Chretien said. "As a politician I respected her. She was fighter. I respect that a lot."

News of Thatcher's death this morning after a stroke at the age of 87 prompted a number of Canadian politicians to express their sadness via social media.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, long an admirer, tweeted his condolences from Israel where he travelling as part of a major tour of the Middle East.

"We have lost a legend and a true lady, an icon and a personal political idol," Baird wrote. "RIP Mrs. Thatcher."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thatcher showed how "a female leader could navigate the corridors of power with purpose, resolve and determination."

"Seeing a woman occupy the office of British prime minister sent a message around the world that little girls — even grocers' daughters — could grow up to be anything," Wynne said in a statement.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement described Thatcher as an inspiration to him when he was young. "Her impact wasn't diminished by time," he tweeted.

A tweet from Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney read, "The U.K. has lost a great leader and a great prime minister."

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel described Thatcher as the inspiration that prompted her to get into politics in the first place.

Bob Rae of the Liberals, meanwhile, called her a remarkable figure.

"Mrs. Thatcher served as British prime minister for more than a decade and in many ways defined conservative politics of her time," Rae said in a statement.

"Her sheer determination and tenacity were legendary, and even political opponents had to admire her ability to stick to the path she set out for her party and her country."

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair offered brief condolences for "one of the most influential British politicians and world leaders of the 20th century."