OTTAWA -- There was an uncommon slowness in Justin Trudeau's step Wednesday morning as he walked toward the weekly Liberal caucus meeting on Parliament Hill, his thoughts weighed heavily with the news that Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie had died.

"I thought I was going to make it through this but I'm not," the prime minister said, his voice cracking with emotion, tears streaming down his face.

"It hurts."

A couple of hours before, the Hip had announced that their lead singer died Tuesday night at the age of 53 after a more than year-long battle with brain cancer.

"We all knew it was coming, Trudeau said. "But we hoped it wasn't."

Trudeau added that Canada was less of a country for having lost Downie.

There was a personal connection between the prime minister and the musician that was only seen publicly on a few occasions.

As his band wrapped up a 15-stop farewell tour in Kingston, Ont., in the summer of 2016, Downie called out to Trudeau, who was in the audience, urging him to take action on behalf of Canada's Indigenous peoples, to make their lives better.

Before that show, Trudeau embraced Downie backstage and later described the bittersweet moment as both a celebration of Downie's life and a chance to say goodbye.

In the months that followed, it was evident that Trudeau had taken the singer's message to heart as his government took several steps to reconcile with Indigenous communities over the treatment of aboriginal children and families under the residential schools program.

On Wednesday, through tear-welled eyes, Trudeau commended Downie for his love of country, his profound ability to use words to create landscapes and his dedication to the plight of Indigenous Canadians.

"Gord was my friend, but Gord was everyone's friend," Trudeau said. "He knew, as great as we were, we needed to be better than we are," he added.

"Our buddy Gord, who loved this country with everything he had, and not just loved it in a nebulous 'oh, I love Canada way,' he loved every hidden corner, every story, every aspect of this country that he celebrated his whole life."

Conservative MP Tony Clement, a musician himself, lamented that it was his unfulfilled dream to perform with Downie.

"It's always been a desire of mine to play with him at some point, but they're incredibly influential to anyone Canadian who has picked up a musical instrument, there's no question about it," Clement said. "I could do a fairly poor version of Ahead by a Century."

Clement also called on the government to consider a state funeral for the iconic singer.

"I think they should really consider it, I really do," he said. "I think he matters that much to Canadians."

Downie's death went beyond Ottawa's political realm, with Library and Archives Canada tweeting a line from the Tragically Hip song "It's a Good Life If You Don't weaken."

"For a good life, we just might have to weaken; And find somewhere to go; Go somewhere we're needed."