Rob Ford was a passionate defender of everyday people, said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi as he paid tribute to the former Toronto mayor, who died Tuesday morning.

"Rob Ford and I were elected one week apart in 2010. After that, the temptation to tie together our fates through our ups and downs was irresistible to some," said Nenshi in a written statement.

"But what I saw in Rob, above all, was a fierce love for his city and a driving desire to do better for people every single day."

Ford, who was 46, had been battling cancer since 2014.

During his four-year tenure as Toronto's mayor from 2010 until his diagnosis, Ford's brash style and controversial stances brought him huge popularity and harsh critics in almost equal measure.

His notoriety became international in 2013 when — after months of denials — he confessed to having smoked crack during one of his "drunken stupors."

After a second video of Ford smoking crack emerged, he took a two-month leave of absence to seek rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse.

Despite enjoying solid polling numbers in the 2014 mayoral race, Ford's health forced him to end his campaign. Instead he ran for and won a seat as a councillor.

Nenshi said he was in contact on Monday with Ford's brother Doug, who asked him to share his family's thanks to the people of Alberta for the many cards and emails wishing them well.

"I remember the trip Rob took out there and he absolutely fell in love with the people of Calgary and Edmonton," Doug Ford told Nenshi.