CALGARY - Alberta's election campaign entered its final week Sunday with the opposition Wildrose party dismissing an endorsement of Premier Allison Redford by a high-profile predecessor.
Peter Lougheed's nod to Redford over the weekend came as her Progressive Conservatives face their toughest test since he ended more than three decades of Social Credit government in 1971.
The endorsement from Lougheed, considered the party's patriarch, is considered a boost for Redford's campaign, which has struggled against the Wildrose party. The fledgling opposition party is hoping to ride the same kind of populist wave that brought the Conservatives to power 41 years ago.
"It's kind of tragic actually that it is considered news for a former premier of the PC party to endorse the current leader of the PC party. That should just be a given," Wildrose leader Danielle Smith told reporters Sunday.
"It is actually kind of sad that they have to go to that extent to try and seek endorsements from prior premiers. Normally premiers do take a step back after they've left public office. I think it just shows the state the PC party is in right now."
Lougheed was originally scheduled to hold a news conference with Redford on Sunday afternoon but the Conservatives issued a news release saying it would be "rescheduled to a later date".
Redford, who was also campaigning in Calgary on Sunday, said she hadn't asked Lougheed for help but considers him a mentor and was thrilled at his endorsement.
"For me, quite honestly, it was an emotional day. I mean this is a man who I think was a great leader and an icon in our province and it was wonderful to see what he sees in our Progressive Conservative party is what he built himself," Redford said.
Lougheed, in an interview Friday night with CTV, urged Conservatives who had left the party to join the Wildrose to reconsider their decision.
"I want them to think about it and I want them to listen carefully to what Alison Redford is saying, to reflect on what I've been saying, to look forward to an Alberta in the future," he said.
Redford, who intends to reach out to undecided voters on the final week of the campaign, said Lougheed's message should help.
"Peter Lougheed said the great thing about Progressive Conservatives is that we not only listen to Albertans, we are Albertans and we do evolve and we do change and we embrace change and we do embrace opportunity."
Lougheed's late game entry is a sign Redford and her Conservatives are in grave difficulties, political experts said.
Chaldeans Menash, who teaches political science at MacEwan University, says he can't recall a situation where Lougheed publicly announced his support for a premier during an election.
It's an act of desperation on the part of the Progressive Conservatives to motivate their core supporters to get to the polls, Menash said.
"It is a sign that the Wildrose threat is real," he said in an interview. "Unlike past elections, this is a very competitive one. There is a sense of change."
"They need to marshal all their resources to make sure their supporters come out."
Lougheed's words for Redford may be in vain, Menash said, adding it would be "a miracle on the Prairies" if the Progressive Conservatives manage to hang on to power.
"It could make a difference in the final days but the trend is definitely against the Tories," he said.
University of Calgary political scientist Doreen Barrie agreed Lougheed's appearance is a sign of storm clouds for the Tories.
"The fact that he's coming out and making this statement (for Redford) means that he must be worried for her, and she must be worried."
Albertans go to the polls April 23.
___ With files by Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton