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Mount Allison University alumnus Purdy Crawford brokered a deal in early 2009 that brought an end to the 17-month stalemate over unwinding frozen ABCP in Canada. (Nathan Dennette/Canadian Press)

Prominent Canadian businessman and lawyer Purdy Crawford has died, according to the Toronto-based law firm where he worked until his recent retirement.

The Nova Scotia-born philanthropist was 82.

Crawford's association with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt stretched back to the late 1950s, but he left for a time to pursue a business career.

From 1987 to 1995, he was chief executive of Montreal-based Imasco Ltd. — a holding company that, at the time, held Imperial Tobacco, Canada Trust and Shoppers Drug Mart.

He later chaired a panel of corporate leaders that recommended that Canada adopt a single securities regulator before he was picked to lead efforts to resolve the 2007 ABCP crisis as chair of the Pan-Canadian Investors Committee. The group was set up by the major institutional investors to salvage about $32 billion invested in short-term notes that couldn't be redeemed.

In an interview, Crawford said it wasn't until the ABCP restructuring committee embarked on a three-day whirlwind tour to talk to retail investors in March 2008 that he understood just how many average Canadians were affected by the frozen assets.

"We started in Toronto, and it wasn't so obvious there," Crawford said while the ABCP crisis was still unfolding.

The numbers grew when they moved on to Montreal and Edmonton, but it was a passionate gathering in Vancouver that left a big impression on the lawyer.

"The place was packed. And yes, I think it was good for those investors to have a face to talk to. I saw the anger, the frustration," he said.

While Crawford's plan ultimately received the approval of an overwhelming majority of noteholders, some investors accused his committee of muddling the process for ordinary people who had put their savings into the commercial paper.