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Former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney, seen in 2008, with his book, An Honourable Calling: Political Memoirs (John Weidlich/CBC )

Former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney has died following a brief battle with cancer, the provincial NDP announced Saturday. He was 85.

"Canada has lost a great statesmen," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement on Twitter on Saturday. "Saskatchewan and Canada are stronger today because of Allan Blakeney's service. May he rest in peace."

"Premier Blakeney will be remembered as a steady leader during a volatile decade," Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said in a news release Saturday.

"He was a strong voice for Saskatchewan, but he also believed in a strong and united Canada," Wall said.

"Saskatchewan has lost one of its greatest public servants, leaders and citizens," said Dwain Lingenfelter, the current leader of the NDP in Saskatchewan.

As premier, Blakeney was noted for the creation of resource-based Crown corporations.

Constitutional talks

He was also a leading figure in constitutional negotiations that gained national prominence in the 1970s and early 1980s.

"He really is a modern day father of Confederation," Roy Romanow told CBC News Saturday, in reference to the negotiations that led to bringing home the Constitution and the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedom.

"Allan Blakeney played an extremely critical and important role," said Romanow, who succeeded Blakeney as party leader and went on to become premier in 1991.

Former prime minister Jean Chretien worked with Blakeney during the constitutional negotiations as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's justice minister.

"He was a gentleman," Chretien said in a telephone interview Saturday. "He was a very serious person. You know, everything was important for him and very meticulous. And a pleasant chap, too."

Rhodes scholar

The soft-spoken son of a Nova Scotia grocer, Blakeney went to Dalhousie University's law school. He won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford in England, where he studied from 1947-49.

Blakeney was a senior Saskatchewan civil servant in the government of Tommy Douglas before entering politics in 1960.

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Premiers gather at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa, in 1975 for a federal-provincial conference with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Allan Blakeney is standing second from right. (Fred Chartrand/CP)

As a provincial cabinet minister in 1962, Blakeney was instrumental in resolving a health-care crisis when doctors in the province protested the introduction of medicare by withholding services.

He became leader of the NDP in 1970 and led the party to victory in the provincial election of 1971.

Blakeney lost the 1982 election to the Progressive Conservatives, led by Grant Devine. He remained as opposition leader until 1987.

After leaving politics, Blakeney entered the world of academia, most recently teaching at the University of Saskatchewan.

Didn't mean to stay in Sask.

In a 2008 interview with CBC News, Blakeney said he arrived in Saskatchewan from Nova Scotia in 1950 with the notion of checking out the Douglas government for a while.

'I did try to be rather bland at my news conferences.' — Allan Blakeney

"I had no intention of staying in Saskatchewan," Blakeney said. "Saskatchewan was the end of the Earth to me in 1950," he said.

"But I'd come out temporarily, because this Douglas government was doing some interesting things," Blakeney added, "and I wanted to see whether this was a place for me."

When he released his 2008 book, An Honourable Calling: Political Memoirs, Blakeney said that, as a politician, he was more concerned with policy than image.

"I did try to be rather bland at my news conferences," Blakeney said during a July 2008 news conference at Tommy Douglas House, the Regina headquarters of the New Democratic Party in Saskatchewan, "because, as Bill Davis, the highly successful premier of Ontario says on many occasions, 'bland sells.'"

Inspired today's politicians

"Allan Blakeney inspired me to run for office in 1978," Lingenfelter added in his news release. "Through the years, Allan was someone to whom I turned often for advice and perspective."

"We've lost a great Canadian," federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said in a Twitter message on Saturday. "He was a proud public servant who inspired others to serve. Our thoughts are with his family."

NDP Leader Jack Layton told reporters at the airport in St. John's that he will dedicate his campaign to Blakeney.

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Saskatchewan Premier Allan Blakeney is seen with the Queen as she receives a flowers from a Boy Scout and Girl Guide outside the legislative building in Regina on July 28, 1978. (CP Photo)

Romanow, who last saw Blakeney on Monday delivering a talk to law students in Saskatoon, also recalled the important role Blakeney played in the introduction of medicare.

"He was an intellectual rock," Romanow said of Blakeney's skills in handling the controversies that erupted over medicare. "I think, without a doubt, that without his strength [medicare] would not have come about."

Blakeney's first wife, Molly, died in 1957. He is survived by his second wife, Anne, whom he married in 1959, and by four children.

Officials with the province said Saturday that flags at the provincial legislature would be at half mast until Blakeney's funeral. Also, a condolence book will be set up in the legislature rotunda for anyone wishing to leave messages for the Blakeney family.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter expressed sadness over Blakeney's death, and noted that Blakeney never forgot his home province, spending as much time as possible at his and Anne's Nova Scotia home in Petite Riviere.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.